Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gay couples who were legally married in their states were not considered married in the eyes of the federal government and were ineligible for federal benefits that come with marriage. The repeal of DOMA, Section 3, means that our federal government now recognizes those same-sex unions. As this is a family law/divorce blog, a few of those benefits that pertain to those areas will be addressed here.
Sex-same married couples are now eligible for federal benefits pertaining to taxes and estate planning, retirement, military, immigration, bankruptcy protection, and social security and medical benefits (to name a few examples).
Taxes: Under DOMA, legally married same-sex couples faced a hurdle for tax filings. If a same-sex couple lived in Washington, they could file their state taxes jointly. But they filed their federal taxes separately as the federal government did not consider their marriage legal. Filing taxes jointly for state and federal was a complicated, lengthy and costly process. Now same-sex couples are eligible for the same IRS benefits available to hetero-sexual couples. For example, the ability to file state and federal taxes with ease in those states that recognize same-sex marriages, claiming the head of household deduction and receiving the estate exemption on gift transfers upon death…which is this how this case came before the US Supreme Court as Edith Windsor paid about $363,000 for estate taxes upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer (New York considered their marriage legally valid).
Retirement Benefits: Hetero-sexual divorcing couples could avoid stiff tax penalties when dividing retirement benefits through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). If you are the disadvantaged spouse, avoiding the negative tax consequences associated with early withdrawal for retirement benefits is a necessity to getting back on your feet. Now same-sex couples going through a divorce can utilize the advantages of filing a QDRO to divide retirement benefits.
Military: A windfall of military benefits is now available for service members in a legally recognized same-sex marriage. A service member’s benefits and allowances are dependent on whether the service member is unmarried or married, which impacts a service member’s compensation. A service member in a same-sex marriage is now entitled to allowances, such as, the dependent-rate housing allowance, family separation allowance and has the ability to move off base to live with a spouse (click here for a full overview of benefits). If you are in the military and going through a divorce, it is important to speak with a divorce attorney to discuss how military allowances and benefits impact calculations for child support or maintenance.