Can you get spousal benefits for a non-marital relationship such as a civil union?

Although Social Security programs, including disability, are federal benefits, both federal and state laws play a role in determining your eligibility. This means you may or may not be eligible as a spouse in a civil union.

Every state has its own laws regarding the legality of:

  • civil unions
  • domestic partnerships
  • common law marriages
  • same-sex marriages
  • other “non-traditional” or non-marital relationships

Recent federal court decisions have validated the legality of same-sex marriages or civil unions in several states. The legality of these unions is still tied up in court processes and pending legal decisions for others.

These facts are important because they affect whether or not you will be eligible for SSD benefits as the spouse of another Social Security-eligible individual. The Social Security Administration (SSA) must review the legality of your civil union under the laws of the state in which your civil union commenced.

The uncertain status or legality of civil unions make the issue of eligibility confusing, but the SSA will accept your application regardless. This is thanks to the dismissal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional in 2013.

Social Security benefits are now available to many more individuals than ever before; however, there are no standard processes or procedural methods for handling these applications in place yet. The SSA also does not yet have detailed information available online or in their hardcopy publications explaining whether or not you will be found eligible for benefits.

Even if you are unsure whether you can get benefits, the SSA encourages you to visit your local SSA office to apply. Your application will be accepted whether you live in a state where civil unions are legal or not. The SSA will also process and review your application no matter what the legal status of civil unions is in the state.

Although the SSA encourages the submission of applications by any individual that may be eligible for benefits, there is no clear commitment on whether your application will be approved or when benefits will be granted if you are found eligible as a spouse in a civil union.

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