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The Federal Defense of Marriage Act, usually called DOMA

Posted On: June 19, 2014

What are the Real Implications of the Supreme Court’s Ruling on DOMA?
The Federal Defense of Marriage Act, usually called DOMA, is a multi-section law enacted in 1996 permitting states to make legal decisions concerning same-sex marriages. Section 3 of DOMA related specifically to federal benefits and until June of 2013, barred same-sex spouses from receiving the benefits for which other married couples qualified. By striking down DOMA, the Court ordered the federal government to leave the definition of marriage to the States. The Supreme Court ruling was in response to a specific case, but its implications were a major step toward equalizing the availability of federal benefits. However, there are still challenges for same-sex married couples depending on the state in which they live and whether or not that state recognizes their marriage. Many couples have traveled out of state to be married, but continue to live in states where same-sex marriage is not allowed. According to the Human Rights Campaign there are 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Many federal agencies determine whether or not spouses are entitled to benefits based on whether their state of residence recognizes the couple as legally married.

Tax Implications
The biggest tax implication of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision is that the marital deduction now applies to same-sex couples, and spouses are permitted to transfer assets to each other tax-free when they are living or after they die. Same-sex couples are also entitled to file a joint tax return. Couples might also be permitted to amend previous tax returns within the statute of limitations. These changes mean same-sex couples are also vulnerable to the tax penalties that come with marriage. Higher tax rates kick in lower for married couples than they do for singles. Additionally, issues might arise due to recent tax changes regarding the Affordable Care Act, changes to the maximum tax rates under the fiscal cliff deal, and the recent resuscitation of the limitation on personal and itemized deductions of high earners. Now, same-sex couples will struggle with the same marriage tax penalty pitfalls as male-female couples. It is important to consult with an experienced accountant to better understand the tax implications benefits and pitfalls.

Implications for Employers
Additionally, federal benefits that apply to an employee’s spouse now extend to same-sex spouses in marriages that are legally recognized. Employers employing people who are part of same-sex marriages will need to evaluate their current retirement benefits, health benefits, and family leave programs. Federal tax law now treats health benefits for same-sex couples the same as the employee’s health insurance – meaning it is tax-free and no longer requires payroll tax deductions. It might also be necessary for employees to change beneficiaries since legal spouses are default beneficiaries. COBRA and family medical leave benefits also now extend to same-sex couples. There are state-to-state variations, so it is important for same-sex couples and those working with same-sex couples to ensure they fully understand the effects of the new law. If you have questions, consult an attorney familiar with DOMA regulations.

Have questions about Family Law or need help in this area, then feel free contact attorney SPIRIO at 631-277-8844.


Marital Rights – What Every Spouse Should Know

Posted On: June 03, 2014

Marriage is a challenge and not all couples are meant to stay together forever. According to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, half of all first marriages end in divorce. Data also shows people are not learning from their mistakes – second marriages tend to end at a rate of more than 65% and nearly one-third of all third marriages end in divorce.

Fortunately, legally ending a marriage and starting a new life is an option, but the process can be complex. If you are considering divorce or you and your spouse have decided the time has come to end your marriage, there are several things you should know concerning your marital rights:

No-Fault Divorce is an Option
No-fault divorce refers to the ending of a marriage where neither party is accusing the other of marital misconduct. If you and your spouse simply grow apart or determine together for whatever reason you no longer wish to be married, no-fault divorce is the best option. Both parties are held equally accountable for the end of the marriage.

Marital Misconduct Plays a Role in Divorce Settlements
Should your desire to divorce arise because of some transgression committed by your spouse, you have the right to assert marital misconduct. This might entitle you to a greater settlement in the divorce. Examples of marital misconduct include abusive behavior, adultery, addiction to drugs or alcohol, or economic fault. Keep in mind these transgressions can also affect child custody, as well as the division of marital assets and spousal support.

It is within the Court’s Power to Force an Attempt to Reconcile
As much as either you or your spouse might want to end your marriage, the court system does have the power to order reconciliation if you or your spouse denies the marriage is irretrievably broken. There are also instances in which an attempt to reconcile is ordered if there are minor children in the family.

Typically, the court delays divorce proceedings for a few months, during which time couples are required to attend counseling or mediation. It does not mean the court can force you to stay married forever, but it can delay the divorce and require that you make an effort to repair your marriage.

If you are considering divorce or you have questions about the best way to end your marriage, it is important you speak with a qualified divorce attorney. He or she can guide you toward the right decisions and ensure your rights are protected during the divorce process.

Have questions about Family Law or need help in this area, then feel free contact attorney SPIRIO at 631-277-8844.