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Judge overturns benefits ruling for same-sex marriage widower

Until the state and federal laws have been changed to accommodate same-sex unions, same-sex couples will remain in limbo when issues such as divorce or the death of one spouse arise. A federal judge recently overturned a previous ruling that denied a California widower of a gay couple surviving spouse benefits. The fact that his partner died before their same-sex marriage reached the nine months required for receiving such benefits was the reason for the denial.

According to the claim, the couple's domestic partnership registration took place in 2005, two years after they met. They got married soon after the ban of Proposition 8 in 2013. The one partner died unexpectedly early in 2014, and the surviving spouse pursued a claim for surviving spouse benefits. However, the nine-month requirement that serves to avoid marriages that take place at the deathbed only to obtain survivor benefits was not met.

In January, the federal judge ruled that the eight years of their domestic partnership should be added to the months that they were married, making the widower eligible for surviving spouse benefits. He said that domestic partnerships in California are regarded the same as marriages for all legal purposes. Their years together in a registered domestic partnership, and the subsequent marriage, made it clear that the brief marriage could not be seen as a deathbed commitment purely to obtain benefits.

California couples who are living together may want to gain information on the legal consequences if they fail to legalize their partnership in some way. They may benefit from considering a domestic partnership or same-sex marriage to protect the rights of each partner. Such couples may find comfort in knowing that there are experienced attorneys who focus on same-sex family law and are experienced about the same-sex laws in our state and other jurisdictions.

Source:, "Wedding Bells Ring: Judge rules in favor of gay CA widower", Seth Hemmelgarn, Jan. 29, 2015

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