Spouse Benefits

What about benefits for my spouse?

When Can I get Benefits?

The Department of Defense (DoD) has said they will be initiating DEERS registration, the base requirement for eligibility for benefits, 6-12 weeks after Windsor, the case the overturned DOMA was decided. However, there was conflicting and incomplete information about when that will happen, but recently DoD announced it will roll out registration starting 3 September 2013.

Who is Recognized as a Military Spouse?

For the active military, reserves, and National Guards, by statute a “spouse” is a legally married husband or wife.

Does the Military Recognize My Marriage?

Generally, yes the military will recognize your marriage as valid if it was valid in the state where the marriage took place. A state-issued marriage certificate is normally all you need. Opposite sex couples also have to produce a marriage certificate to get benefits.

Marriages entered into in foreign countries to foreign nationals generally must be approved by the military service beforehand. If such a marriage is not approved before the marriage is performed, the service member must obtain a “recognition of marriage” from the military service.

The military determines a marriage to be valid based on the law of the state where the marriage was celebrated, regardless of what state you lived in when you married, after you marry, or where you are stationed later.

When/ How do I Register for Spousal Benefits?

Eligibility for all military spousal benefits is triggered by a spouse’s valid enrollment in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). To add a spouse to DEERS, the service member must go to an ID Card office or DEERS office and present a valid marriage certificate, or in the case of a common law marriage, a determination from the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) that the common law marriage is valid under state law. (There are three jurisdictions that have common law marriage and which also recognize same sex marriages. However, it is not recommended that you rely on common law marriage--the record will be cleaner with a marriage certificate. Also, some common law states require some form of continuous cohabitation, that is living together, a formal marriage does not.)

In addition to a birth certificate, you need the spouse’s picture ID, certified copy of their birth certificate, and Social Security card.

Do I Have a Duty to Report My Marriage?

Yes, all service members have a duty to report changes in their dependent status within 30 days. Now that DOMA has been struck down, service members who are legally married under any states’ laws must report the marriage. It is unclear when the 30-day deadline for reporting will begin, because registration with DEERS does not commence until 3 September. Presumably, the time would run 30 days from that date, however it is probably better to report as soon as possible.

What Benefits will Spouses Be Able to Receive?

Once your spouse is enrolled in DEERS, he or she is eligible for the benefits any other spouse would receive. However, those benefits administered by the Veterans Administration have not been resolved by the demise of DOMA. See, VA Benefits.

What Should I Do?

Couples who are married, regardless of whether you currently live in a state that recognizes your marriage, should go to a DEERS office or ID Card office and report that you are married. You will need a copy of your marriage certificate ,the spouse’s picture ID, certified copy of their birth certificate, and Social Security card.

Make a paper trail showing that you have applied or tried to apply and been turned away if you are refused. We do not know exactly when the benefits will trigger, so making that paper trail may be important.

Couples in state domestic partnerships or state civil unions, or couples who have no legal status as a couple, are not required to report those relationships to the military.

**What if I am not Married Can I Get Benefits for My Partner ? **

In February, 2013, then-Secretary of Defense Panetta announced that certain benefits not blocked by DOMA would be made available to the same-sex domestic partners of service members Since then DoD has revoked the domestic partnership benefits extension. You must have a lawful marriage to obtain spousal benefits.

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