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Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States

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According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are over a thousand federal laws that treat married people differently from single people. It should be noted that these rights and responsibilities apply only to male-female married couples, as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as between a man and a woman and thus bars Same-sex couples from receiving any federal recognition of same sex marriage or conveyance of marriage benefits to same sex couples through federal marriage law.

Prior to the enactment of DOMA, the General Accounting Office (as the GAO was then called) identified 1,049 [1] federal statutory provisions in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. An update was published in 2004 by the GAO covering the period between September 21, 1996 (when DOMA was signed into law) and December 31, 2003. The update identified 120 new statutory provisions involving marital status, and 31 statutory provisions involving marital status repealed or amended in such a way as to eliminate marital status as a factor. This yields a total of 1,138 [2] provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges.

See below for a partial list of these provisions of federal law.

Rights and benefits Edit

  • Right to many of ex- or late spouse's benefits, including:
    • Social Security pension
    • veteran's pensions, indemnity compensation for service-connected deaths, medical care, and nursing home care, right to burial in veterans' cemeteries, educational assistance, and housing
    • survivor benefits for federal employees
    • survivor benefits for spouses of longshoremen, harbor workers, railroad workers
    • additional benefits to spouses of coal miners who die of black lung disease
    • $100,000 to spouse of any public safety officer killed in the line of duty
    • continuation of employer-sponsored health benefits
    • renewal and termination rights to spouse's copyrights on death of spouse
    • continued water rights of spouse in some circumstances
    • payment of wages and workers compensation benefits after worker death
    • making, revoking, and objecting to post-mortem anatomical gifts
  • Right to benefits while married:
    • employment assistance and transitional services for spouses of members being separated from military service; continued commissary privileges
    • per diem payment to spouse for federal civil service employees when relocating
    • Indian Health Service care for spouses of Native Americans (in some circumstances)
    • sponsor husband/wife for immigration benefits
  • Larger benefits under some programs if married, including:
  • Joint and family-related rights:
    • joint filing of bankruptcy permitted
    • joint parenting rights, such as access to children's school records
    • family visitation rights for the spouse and non-biological children, such as to visit a spouse in a hospital or prison
    • next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions or filing wrongful death claims
    • custodial rights to children, shared property, child support, and alimony after divorce
    • domestic violence intervention
    • access to "family only" services, such as reduced rate memberships to clubs & organizations or residency in certain neighborhoods
  • Preferential hiring for spouses of veterans in government jobs
  • Tax-free transfer of property between spouses (including on death) and exemption from "due-on-sale" clauses.
  • Special consideration to spouses of citizens and resident aliens
  • Spouse's flower sales count towards meeting the eligibility for Fresh Cut Flowers and Fresh Cut Greens Promotion and Information Act
  • Threats against spouses of various federal employees is a federal crime
  • Right to continue living on land purchased from spouse by National Park Service when easement granted to spouse
  • Court notice of probate proceedings
  • Domestic violence protection orders
  • Existing homestead lease continuation of rights
  • Regulation of condominium sales to owner-occupants exemption
  • Funeral and bereavement leave
  • Joint adoption and foster care
  • Joint tax filing
  • Insurance licenses, coverage, eligibility, and benefits organization of mutual benefits society
  • Legal status with stepchildren
  • Making spousal medical decisions
  • Spousal non-resident tuition deferential waiver
  • Permission to make funeral arrangements for a deceased spouse, including burial or cremation
  • Right of survivorship of custodial trust
  • Right to change surname upon marriage
  • Right to enter into prenuptial agreement
  • Right to inheritance of property
  • Spousal privilege in court cases (the marital confidences privilege and the spousal testimonial privilege)

Responsibilities Edit

  • Spousal income and assets are counted in determining need in many forms of government assistance, including:
    • veteran's medical and home care benefits
    • housing assistance
    • housing loans for veterans
    • child's education loans
    • educational loan repayment schedule
    • agricultural price supports and loans
    • eligibility for federal matching campaign funds
  • Ineligible for National Affordable Housing program if spouse ever purchased a home:
  • Subject to conflict-of-interest rules for many government and government-related jobs
  • Ineligible to receive various survivor benefits upon remarriage

Ambiguous Edit

There are some laws that either benefit or penalize married couples over single people, depending upon their own circumstances:

  • Marriage penalty/bonus
  • Someone working for their spouse cannot be defined as an "employee"
  • Someone cannot change beneficiaries in a retirement plan or from waiving the joint and survivor annuity form of retirement benefit, without the written consent of his or her spouse
  • Wages can be garnished at a maximum of 60% (instead of the normal 25% limit) if the garnishing is for alimony or child support

States Edit

In addition, community-property states frequently have forms of ownership that allow a full basis step-up on one's own share of community property on the death of a spouse (in addition to the normal step-up on spouse's assets).

Legal remedies enacted following the GAO reportEdit

Following this report, at least one bill went through Congress to attempt to remedy some of the differences in rights between same-sex partnerships and marriages. The Uniting American Families Act is at least one.

References Edit

  1. http://www.gao.gov/archive/1997/og97016.pdf General Accounting Office's 1997 report PDF format
  2. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04353r.pdf 2004 updated report of the GAO PDF format

Further reading Edit

See also Edit

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