logistics, financial considerations: marrying with disability
March 7, 2017 11:02 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are thinking of getting married. He has a progressive physical disability that very significantly limits his mobility. We hope to have children. What considerations do we need to make before we tie the knot? I am especially interested in financial/tax/social security considerations and any other practical issues you can think of.

Despite his disability, he is able to make a income in the low six figures. Of course, we can't see the future, but he anticipates being able to keep this up as his disability progresses due the nature of his illness and his skill set, and I agree this is a reasonable assumption. My income will also be in the low six figures within 4-5 years but it is currently very low due to me being in the training stages of my career. My job will likely have very good health insurance, but I don't know if employer health insurance ever takes up issue with family members with disabilities/progressive illnesses.

We anticipate that we will almost certainly need extra help around the house and other tasks; he will reach the point where he cannot take care of some basic needs by himself. We have also thought about potentially getting an assistance dog.

I'd much rather talk about my excitement for reaching this stage in our relationship, but:
Should we marry before my income increases? After? Are we better off not legally marrying? I have heard of a marriage tax penalty, but I have no idea how taxes and social security really works in this case, and barely know where to begin, so any pointers would be helpful. We will be in NY or CT, if that matters.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total)
Please make sure that your finances (bank accounts, folded with info about your monthly bills, who to pay them to, what things are automatically charged to your credit card etc.) are all in order. And make sure you have up to date wills and power of attorney. My husband had a progressive illness we thought was manageable. A complication developed very fast, and my life was made a lot more difficult because we didn't have our stuff in order. His dad had POA and wasted a good week of daytime business hours trying to track down his car lease when nobody could find it.
posted by ficbot at 6:27 AM on March 8, 2017

The marriage tax penalty is less of big deal than it was, but basically it's much more advantageous to be married (tax-wise) if one of you makes signifcantly less money than the other*. So, like, if you have an adjusted gross income of $20K a year and he has an AGI of $150K a year, if you're unmarried you will pay around $2500 in federal income tax and he will pay ~$35,000 in taxes, for a total of $37,500 between the two of you. If you were married and filing your taxes jointly, your tax burden would be a little less, around $34,000 for the both of you.

As for employer health insurance, it's unusual for large companies to care about whether spouses/families are costing a lot of money. But with small businesses one sick spouse can make a big difference and a company could choose to change its insurance offering to not cover spouses or only cover them at great expense**. Remember also that if you are both dependent on your job for health insurance, becoming unemployed is a much bigger deal - know what you will do if you get laid off, fired, or need to quit for whatever reason. If you take parental leave, do you retain insurance coverage? Oh and if you're not married and he is covered on your insurance, and his portion of the insurance is paid by your employer, it may be considered taxable income (if you're married, it's not).

I think overall your best bet is pretty much the same as what everyone else should be doing: get married when you feel like it, live well within your means, ideally on only one of your incomes (which shouldn't be hard since it's what you're doing currently), and save aggressively so that you can afford help, dogs, home retrofits, etc. as they come up.

There are marriage consequences for disability/SSI income, but if your partner is likely to be able to keep earning lots of money as his disability progresses then he likely wouldn't qualify for disability income anyway.

* except in a few cases like if the one who makes less also has significant taxable investment income

** not to say that this is a universal thing - I work for a small employer where several employees have spouses with expensive medical conditions and we still all get good insurance with very manageable out-of-pocket costs.
posted by mskyle at 7:08 AM on March 8, 2017

I think you need to take a hard look at what your financial situation will be when you have kids. As you will both be working, you will need to pay for daycare. If your financee finds himself unable to work due to his disability, will he also need daytime help? Like a person to come in a couple of hours per day to help him? In that situation you're talking about both loss of income and additional costs for care. In that scenario, you should be thinking about getting as much shortterm and longterm disability coverage as you can, and you should plan now to be living on one income. If it ever happens that you really are down to one income it won't come as such a shock, and the extra savings will be a nice bonus. Not quite the question you asked, but important to factor into your longterm plans together.
posted by vignettist at 8:14 AM on March 8, 2017

There are two kinds of social security disability payments - SSI and SSDI. SSI is needs based. SSDI is entitlement based - if your husband pays into social security for 10 years (less if he is younger when his disability takes him out of the workforce) then he gets paid based on his earnings record. (see this unofficial summary) I think this means that your marriage would not impact his benefits but I wouldn't trust a random stranger's opinion on anything related to SS.
posted by metahawk at 4:04 PM on March 8, 2017

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