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Supreme Court’s Decision on Same Sex Divorce

The Supreme Court has just struck down a key part of a law that denies legally married same sex couples to the same federal benefits provided to heterosexual couples.

The Court examined whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same sex couples in states where they can legally marry. At issue was whether DOMA violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

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The Supreme Court found DOMA unconstitutional.

Until now, same sex divorces had several complicating factors:

  1. A pension that one spouse earned during the marriage could not be divided by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order;
  2. An award of alimony did not have the same tax savings;
  3. COBRA was not available to a divorced spouse; and
  4. Social Security benefits were not available.

Now, the federal changes and recent decision by the Supreme Court will provide greater financial security to same sex couples:

  1. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order will allow a pension and/or retirement account to be divided at the time of divorce without any tax payments or penalties. Moreover, the alternate payee (the non-owning spouse) will have the right to collect his/her share of the pension at the time of retirement;
  2. The party paying alimony will be able to deduct this amount from his or her gross income for Federal Tax purposes and the recipient of the alimony would claim this same account as income;
  3. COBRA will automatically continue to provide health insurance coverage to a divorced spouse if the employed ex-spouse loses their employment; and
  4. Social Security benefits will now be available to those couples married ten years or more. A divorced spouse can now choose to have his/her social security income calculated based on their own income or of their spouses income- whichever is greater.
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