For Disabled People, Getting Married Can Cost More Than It’s Worth

For Disabled People, Getting Married Can Cost More Than It’s WorthLaws often become outdated because what society deems important, or what lawmakers deem to be important, changes over time. That’s why we have the ability to amend laws as the decades go by. There are still laws in place proving themselves to be outdated, and no longer morally or logically comprehensible. The Social Security Administration’s understanding of the disabled community is made obvious by their continuation of certain laws that take away those peoples’ rights to their benefits, which they need in order to simply survive.

Marriage should not be a disqualifying factor in receiving Social Security disabilities benefits. Married or not, people with disabilities need the government-funded assistance to which they are entitled to afford such things as doctors’ visits, mobility assistance equipment, and other caregiving services.

The disabled community’s fight against outdated laws

In a recent article, The New York Times detailed Lori Long’s story of her desire to get married and to keep her benefits. Ms. Long was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at 15 years of age. This condition, which causes bone fractures and necessitates her often using a wheelchair, is a costly one, as she needs to have frequent doctors’ appointments and expensive equipment to simply help her get around.

Ms. Long met Mark Contreras in 2015 and, as many of us do when we meet the right person, fell in love. Naturally, the two eventually decided to get married, only there was one thing stopping them. On her own, Lori had qualified for the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) disabilities program for those who are legally classified as Disabled Adult Children (DAC), which gave her much-needed benefits; however, those benefits would stop should she ever get married.

Ms. Long points out the SSA laws were made so long ago that they had become outdated, and have pushed disabled people to the outskirts of society.  She put it succinctly, stating, “When they wrote the Social Security laws, they weren’t thinking that young people with disabilities would ever be marriage material.” Ms. Long went on to say that, “People didn’t think we might have dreams and hopes like everybody else. We do.”

It is a sad statement and unfortunately one that proves true to many people with disabilities looking to get married, not just for DAC recipients, but those who receive other disability benefits from SSI, or Supplemental Security Income. The NYT article doesn’t leave us without hope, however, noting: “In September 2019, Ms. Long contacted Representative Jimmy Panetta, a Democrat in California’s 20th Congressional district. Earlier this year, he introduced the Marriage Equality for Disabled Adults Act, which includes a provision nicknamed ‘Lori’s Law’ that would remove the D.A.C. marriage restriction.”

More and more lawmakers are seeing how the SSA’s laws are outdated and unfair to the disabled community, and are calling for and taking actions to end marriage restrictions for those on Social Security disability programs. This includes California State Senator Anna Caballero, who introduced a state resolution calling on the federal government to end the DAC marriage restriction – basically a declaration of support for Lori’s Law.

In Pennsylvania, the Legislature passed a bill “that widens eligibility for a state program called Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities.” It allowed the interabled couple Kaitlin A. Kerr and Jonathan Heidenreich to keep their benefits after they married. Before the new law was passed, one could only qualify for Medicaid if your income put you beneath the poverty line – a line Kerr and Heidenriech surpassed when they married and their incomes were combined.

Ms. Kerr puts the whole problem with SSA disabilities programs succinctly: “Trapping us in enforced poverty and preventing us from forming families sends a message to people with disabilities that we’re not worth the connections other people have, The next step is getting the federal laws changed. We’re going to do this piece by piece, so nobody gets left behind.”

How can I prepare for the loss of my benefits?

People with disabilities must unfortunately consider the loss of their benefits should they tie the knot. For those of us who are not currently disabled and are married, we should consider what needs to happen in the event that we are. This can happen in many ways, whether through a car accident, an accident at work, or through an illness or condition that renders you unable to work.

If you need the benefits that are only available to you as a single person, you may need to file for a divorce from your spouse, even if you two are still happy to be married. In this eventuality, it is a good idea to create and sign a postnuptial agreement

This contract (when filed before marriage, called a prenuptial agreement) draws lines between separate property (“mine”) and joint property (“ours”). The agreement also protects the financial interests of children from previous marriages, determines how debts are divided among the two spouses, and ensures that any businesses or real estate that you own is protected.

You can draw this contract up with your Maryville postnuptial agreement lawyer. They will take care of the legal side of things as you and your spouse decide on how exactly you want things to be once you are divorced. That way, no one is left hurt, and everything is fairly divided.

If you are someone who wants to take precautions against being subject to these outdated laws concerning the financial rights of disabled peoples, then you should reach out to Shepherd & Long in Maryville. Our compassionate and knowledgeable team wants to ensure that you receive the help you deserve should you ever become disabled. We support and protect the members of our disabled community throughout Blount County and beyond. To schedule an appointment, call 865-982-8060, or use our contact page. We’re here to help.