Know Your Rights: Marriage Equality and Retirement Benefits

same sex couples and retirement benefitsAfter the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of United States v. Windsor, the federal government was required to recognize all legal marriages, including those of same-sex couples. Since that ruling, most employer-sponsored retirement benefit plans have recognized same-sex spouses as legal spouses who are eligible for a share of all retirement benefits or to act as a beneficiary.

Therefore, all retirement plans through private employers should already be recognizing same-sex spouses and providing them with equal treatment. This means that whether or not the state they live in recognizes their marriage, legally married same-sex couples are entitled to retirement benefits through plans that are subject to federal law. This is also the case for all federal government employees.

However, this meant that state or local government employees whose retirement plans were subject to state and local laws were not offered the same spousal protections. Now, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which requires states to recognize all legal marriages, all spouses should be treated equally and are eligible for any spousal benefits offered.

Who is Eligible?

same sex couples and retirement benefitsBecause retirement plans vary widely, it is important to review the terms of your specific plan to see how your benefits and eligibility have changed in light of the ruling on marriage equality. It is important that you seek legal counsel and have a lawyer who specializes in employment benefits review the specific details of your retirement plan and determine how and when they will recognize your spouse.

If your retirement plan refuses to give the same benefits to your same-sex spouse that they regularly give to different-sex spouses, it is vital that you act quickly to make sure that your rights are protected. There are timelines set forth in plans that can limit the amount of time you have to appeal a benefits decision in your plan.

If you have questions about your spousal benefits, or feel that you are being denied benefits to which you are legally entitled, contact Alexander Law Firm. We will listen to you, discuss your options, and help advocate for your rights.