Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Impact of DOMA Repeal to Social Security Benefits Explained

What is DOMA?

Initially introduced in May, 1996 by the then-U.S. President, Bill Clinton, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was signed into law on September 21, 1996. The said federal law legally allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage under the laws of other states.

How DOMA was repealed?

After more than sixteen years, the U.S. Supreme Court has finally made remarkable changes in the Section 3 of DOMA, that favor the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and its advocates. On June 26, 2013, the court has ruled that the said law that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage legitimized by states is unconstitutional. Meaning, DOMA was only enacted as law by either by a national legislature or a by a subordinate level of government legislature such as a state or a province. Consequently, the act is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Therefore, from now on, gay marriage or same-sex marriage would be legally recognized in U.S. Also, same-sex marriage couple may now enjoy the same privileges provided by the federal government to opposite-sex marriage couples, such as income tax benefits, estate and gift tax benefits, tax-payer friendly employee benefits and Social Security benefits.

How DOMA would affect social security benefits?

Unfortunately for those same-sex marriage couples who are living in states where same-sex marriages are not acknowledged, they could not take advantage the new law. This is because that Social Security Administration (SSA) generally uses the couple’s current state of residence as its basis for determining spousal benefits.

Meanwhile, for those same-sex couples living in states where in same-sex marriage is recognized, they could start enjoying the significant changes brought by the revised law in their Social Security system.

Here is what they can expect from their social security benefits following the big changes:
  • Survivor’s Benefits

Usually, when a spouse of an opposite-sex marriage dies, the surviving spouse may be eligible for a survivor’s benefits provided that he or she is 60-years-old or older and disabled, or could be at any age if he or she is caring for the decedent’s child who is younger than 16-years-old, or disabled and entitled to Social Security benefits on the record of the deceased spouse. Now, with DOMA repeal, the same benefits would also be available to same-sex marriage couples.

  • Divorced Spouses

Traditionally, if the opposite-sex couples divorces, the estranged spouse may qualify for the Social Security benefits based on his or her ex-spouse’s earnings. Under the agency’s policy, a divorced spouse must have been married to his or her ex-spouse for at least 10 years and have been divorced for at least two years. In addition, the divorced spouse must be at least 62-years-old, unmarried and ineligible for an equal or greater benefit based on his or her own earnings of the earnings of someone else. Now, the same benefit presumably applies to divorced same-sex couples.
  • Death Benefits

During unavoidable circumstances like death, the SSA pays a one-time death benefit of $225 to a decedent’s surviving spouse in an opposite-sex marriage or to a minor child of the decedent. Presumable, the agency is now expected to pay the one-time death benefit to the surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage.

Since the new law is still young, in all of these changes, same-sex marriage couples can expect the SSA or even lawyers from a Los Angeles social security disability firm to provide guidance in the issue.