The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin today encouraged same-sex couples in registered domestic partnerships in the state to apply for Social Security benefits.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Wisconsin does not allow same-sex couples to marry or recognize out-of-state marriages, but the state does have a domestic partnership registration program.
The ACLU of Wisconsin, in its statement, said, “we believe couples who are registered here as domestic partners are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.”
“That’s because Social Security is governed by federal, not state laws. Wis. Chapter 852 treats domestic partners no differently than married couples—which is the standard in the Social Security statute.”
The ACLU said that couples considering applying for Social Security should think about the following:
• A couple must be registered as domestic partners for at least one year before applying for Social Security benefits.
• If you and your partner are on the domestic partner registry, there is no penalty for applying for benefits even if benefits are denied.
• You must be at least 61 years and nine months of age (or older) to apply for Social Security benefits. The earliest age at which you can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits is 62; the oldest age is 70.
• Apply for benefits in person, at a Social Security field office, rather than online. You will need to bring proof of your domestic partnership registry and may need to cite Wis. Chapter 852.
• It only makes sense to apply for Social Security benefits if one partner earns significantly less income than the other, or has no earnings. The partner earning less applies to receive up to 50 percent of the higher earner’s benefits. The government first pays the lower earner’s benefits, and then makes up the difference between those benefits and 50 percent of the higher earner’s benefits. There is a family limit of 150 to 180 percent of the higher earner’s benefits.
• The Social Security Administration is encouraging same-sex couples to apply for benefits, even though the agency hasn’t yet issued updated instructions to its field offices. The Justice Department first needs to review the laws related to federal benefits and obligations affected by the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act. It will take time to determine which Social Security benefits apply to civil union and domestic partner states, such as Wisconsin.
• There are other considerations for couples when applying for benefits. For example, should you apply for taking benefits at age 62, 66 or 70? Should you take payments now, or apply and then suspend payments to continue working? When reviewing these options, couples should consult with an attorney or financial planner with expertise in Social Security matters.