CBP Allows Domestic Partnerships and Blended Families to File a Single Customs Declaration

On 12/13/2013, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) broadened the definition of “members of a family residing in one household” to include long-term same-sex couples and other domestic relationships, a departure from the usual practice of a ‘family’ file multiple forms for each member, creating extra paperwork and a waste of processing time on entry to the US.

The rule will become effective on January 17th, 2014 after the holidays. The rule applies to both returning US citizens, US residents and international visitors who can now file a joint customs declaration for items purchased or brought from overseas.

CBP expects this process streamlining to save up to $2.8 million annually in personnel time.

New Definition of Domestic Relationships

“Domestic relationship” would be defined to include:

  • Foster children, stepchildren, half-siblings, legal wards, other dependents, and individuals with an in loco parentis or guardianship relationship with the children.
  • Two adults who are in a committed relationship including, but not limited to, long-term companions and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships where the partners are financially interdependent, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else.

“Domestic relationship” excludes roommates or other cohabitants who do not meet the above definition.

“Members of a family residing in one household” will continue to include relationships of blood, adoption and marriage.

What This Change Will Mean to Travelers

For US Citizens and Residents

  • Under the new definition of domestic relationship, one combined family declaration can be presented to the CBP officer upon arrival.
  • For returning U.S. residents to be considered members of a family and group their exemption from customs duty and internal revenue tax, individuals must have lived in one household at their last permanent residence and intend to live together in one household in the U.S.
  • As with any joint declaration, verbal or written, the person making and/or signing the declaration will be held accountable for its validity.
  • If family members are U.S. residents, regulations allow them a personal duty exemption of up to $800 per individual and up to $1,600 per family.

For International Visitors

  • Under the new definition of domestic relationship, one combined family declaration can be presented to the CBP officer upon arrival.
  • For visitors to the U.S., regulations allow them certain exemptions (gifts, tobacco, personal effects, etc,), and they will be able to file a single family declaration, but they do not have the same personal duty exemption of $800 (individual) and $1,600 (members of a family) allowed to returning U.S. residents. As with any joint declaration, verbal or written, the person making and/or signing the declaration will be held accountable for its validity.

The Takeaway

Families are now redefined to include domestic partnerships, civil unions, unmarried persons living together, couples in same sex relationships and their biological, adopted and foster children. Families must reside together and continue to reside in the same home after they return to the US. There must be a financial relationship between the couple, which could mean a joint tax return or other means of sharing the financial burden of their home.

See also:
DOMA Issues After the Passage of “US v. Windsor”
USCIS releases FAQ on Immigration Benefits for Same Sex Marriages

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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