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Federal Government & Military Benefits For Same-Sex Spouses

BenefitsThe Livesay & Myers Blog, as the rest of the nation, has closely followed the recent Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. In a previous post, my colleague Ariel Baniowski discussed how Virginia law is impacted by the Supreme Court’s rulings. While these decisions do not modify Virginia marriage laws, the Supreme Court has radically altered the landscape of federal law, in a way that might affect thousands of Virginians.

In the case of U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), ruling that the federal government can no longer restrict federal marriage benefits to solely opposite-sex couples. Virginia of course– especially Northern Virginia– is home to a large number of federal employees. During the recent “sequester” showdown, it was reported that some 322,198 federal employees and retirees call the Commonwealth their home. Should any of these employees or retirees enter into a same-sex marriage, the federal government is now required to recognize their partner’s status as a spouse.

The Department of Defense has already moved to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of military servicemembers in the wake of the Court’s DOMA ruling. This includes making military identification cards available to same-sex spouses as well as dependent coverage through Tricare and an increased housing allowance to the “with dependents” rate. Spouses would also presumably be covered under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) should they be married at retirement.

Recognition of same-sex spouses will also extend into the rights of same-sex spouses upon divorce. This would include medical coverage after the marriage ends and former spouse coverage under the SBP. It would likely also include division of the marital share of the servicemember’s military retired pay.

It is not fully clear how these changes to federal law will impact same-sex spouses of servicemembers who have already retired from active duty. Presumably, the Department of Defense will set up an “open season” to allow retirees the chance to buy into the SBP program for their now-eligible spouses. As with many of these issues, the specifics are still taking shape.

The divorce attorneys of Livesay & Myers, P.C. have extensive experience handling separation and divorce issues for federal employees and military servicemembers. From our offices in Fairfax, Ashburn, Manassas and Fredericksburg, we represent clients throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.