Kent, OH asked in Criminal Law, Federal Crimes and Family Law for Ohio

Q: Is is fraud to have wedding ceremony but not get legally married? Marriage could negatively impact debt liability + SSI.

Asking for friends. If a disabled person and a non-disabled person are dating, and want to get married for religious + social reasons, but discover marriage would put the disabled partner over the income limit for SSI, is a non-legal religious ceremony ok? Or is it fraud?

In this case, the non-disabled partner doesn't make enough to cover the insurance, meds, and care the disabled partner needs to live, but the non-disabled partner's income would still disqualify their spouse from Medicaid + SSI.

Somewhat related, but a different couple - if one partner has significant debt, is currently paying it off in small increments on a low-income-based repayment plan, but they would no longer qualify for that plan if they legally marry their partner. And, also, their partner does not want to become liable for their debt.

In that case, is a religious ceremony with no legal paperwork ok? Or is that considered fraud?

If either case is considered fraud, are there other avenues?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: Holding a wedding ceremony without completing the legal formalities to become officially married is not, in itself, fraud. Many couples choose to have a religious or ceremonial marriage without the legal recognition for various personal reasons, including financial or medical benefit considerations. As long as both parties are clear that the marriage is not legally binding and do not use it to claim any benefits or status that requires a legal marriage, this is generally not considered fraudulent.

In the context of Social Security and other government benefits, eligibility is often based on legal marital status and household income. If a couple is not legally married, the non-disabled partner's income typically would not be considered in the disabled partner's eligibility for SSI or Medicaid. It's crucial, however, to be transparent with all involved agencies about your living situation and income sources to avoid any implications of fraud.

For couples concerned about debt and financial liability, opting for a ceremony without legal marriage can prevent the non-debtor partner from becoming liable for the other's pre-existing debt. Again, transparency is key, especially when it comes to financial agreements and obligations. For personalized advice and to explore all possible options, consulting with a legal professional or financial advisor who understands your specific situation and state laws is highly recommended.

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