Know Your Rights: Marriage Equality and Spousal Social Security Benefits

same sex marriage and social security benefitsAs we discussed in our last post, prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, married same-sex couples were required to navigate a patchwork of federal and state laws in order to determine what benefits they were entitled to receive.

The Court’s 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor struck down a law that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and spousal benefits became available for many married couples. However, the Social Security administration was still forced to look to the state law where the wage earner lived in order to determine who was eligible for benefits. If the state the couple lived in did not recognize their marriage, then the wage earner was deemed to be unmarried and his or her spouse, widow or widower were ineligible for benefits.

Who Can Get Spousal Social Security Benefits?

same sex marriage and social security benefitsNow that all states are required to recognize the legality of the marriages of same-sex couples, the state in which the wage earner lives should no longer be an issue for same sex couples. All legal marriages, whether same-sex or different-sex, are now recognized equally and spouses are entitled to the same benefits.

It is important to note that while some couples were previously prohibited from being married due to the laws in their state, now that they have the opportunity to be legally married they may still be required to wait through the minimum marriage duration requirements in order to become eligible for some spousal benefits. This period can range from nine months for a lump sum death benefit, to twelve months for retirement and disability benefits.

For couples who were married and had the wage earning spouse pass away prior to the recent ruling, the Social Security Administration is still attempting to make a final determination on whether benefits will be paid. This situation should be evaluated by legal counsel who can help you determine how to best proceed with making a claim for benefits to which you may be eligible.

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.