Same Sex Couples Filing Jointly in 2014

For the first time in US history, same-sex couples can file federal taxes jointly just like heterosexual married couples in the US. This is the outcome of a ruling by the US Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, where a same-sex marriage was recognized by the US federal government for the first time as a basis for a same-sex spouse being eligible for recognition under federal law.

Filing in 2014

This year, same-sex spouses can apply to file federal taxes just like a married couple filing jointly. In order to be eligible for this status, there are a few prerequisites:

  1. The marriage must have occurred either in 2013 or in a prior year;
  2. The marriage must have occurred in a jurisdiction either in the US or abroad;
  3. The jurisdiction of marriage must recognize same-sex marriage;
  4. However, same sex couples in a civil union or domestic partnerships, are not eligible to file taxes jointly as a married couple. They are still unmarried individuals for federal tax purposes.

Takeaway

Filing jointly could be a smart choice because of lower tax implications of joint filing.

See also:

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 2014. All rights reserved.

Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.

Social Share Toolbar
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather

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.

Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.

Social Share Toolbar
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather

DOMA Issues After the Passage of “US v. Windsor”

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law that gives states the choice to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 10 states; the remaining states have various alternatives on the lawfulness of same-sex unions, affecting the distribution of federal benefits for same-sex couples.

Section 3 of DOMA provides a federal definition of “marriage” as the union of a man and woman. In addition, Section 3 prohibits same-sex married couples from being acknowledged as “spouses” in terms of federal laws, for acquiring federal marriage benefits.

Earlier this summer, the constitutionality of DOMA — Section 3 in particular — was addressed in United States v. Windsor in the Supreme Court, where the plaintiff argued that the federal law encroaches on the Constitution’s equal protection clauses.

The plaintiff and her spouse were New York residents, who had legally wed in Canada. As residents of New York, their same-sex marriage was accepted under state law; however, due to Section 3, their marriage was not accepted by federal law. The federal government then taxed the plaintiff’s late spouse’s estate $363,053. If the marriage had been recognized by federal law, the estate wouldn’t be subject to taxes, and would have been authorized for a marital exemption.

In 2012, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that DOMA’s definitional section — Section 3 — was unconstitutional. More recently, the Supreme Court held that DOMA strips persons of the equal liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.

Now that Section 3 of DOMA has been struck down, several federal benefits and protections of opposite-sex couples have been extended to same-sex couples in state-recognized marriages:

  • Taxes: The Department of Justice and IRS have ruled that same-sex couples, who have been legally married in states that acknowledge those marriages, will be taxed as married couples. This is applicable to same-sex couples who live in a state that recognizes their marriage as well as to same-sex couples who live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage.
  • Social Security Benefits: The Social Security Administration (SSA) now acknowledges same-sex marriages for deciding Social Security benefits.
  • Medicare: Private Medicare plan beneficiaries will now receive equal coverage for care in their spouse’s nursing home.
  • US Visas for Same-Sex Spouses: Same-sex couples’ visa applications will now be processed the same as opposite-sex couples.  Both the Department of State and the USCIS will process same sex applications and apply the same standards as would be applicable to a heterosexual marriage.
  • Benefits for Uniformed Service Members: Benefits from the Department of Defense will now apply to same-sex spouses of uniformed service members and civilian employees.
  • Benefits for Federal Employees: Benefits from the Office of Personnel Management will now apply to same-sex marriages of federal employees and annuitants.

Takeaway

This is a huge step towards equal application of the law and attendant benefits to same-sex couples. Many same-sex couples are returning to the US after spending years abroad with their foreign spouse. What a wonderful ending!

Read my other post on DOMA, 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.

Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.

Social Share Toolbar
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather

USCIS releases FAQ on Immigration Benefits for Same Sex Marriages

USCIS Makes Good on its Promise

After the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down as unconstitutional, USCIS issued a two-point FAQ today on filing for same-sex spouses. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued the following statement:

“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly. To that end, effective immediately, I have directed USCIS to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

Now Same-Sex Partners can be Sponsored for Immigration Benefits

US citizens married to a same-sex spouse can now sponsor them for a family-based immigrant visa, both overseas and in the US. They can file the petition for a green card and any accompanying application. Eligibility will be determined according to applicable immigration law, and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of the marriage.

Jurisdictional Issues

If the marriage was celebrated in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, but domicile in a state where recognition is not legal, some deference will be given to the ‘Full Faith & Credit Clause’ of the US Constitution. This allows the couple to file the petition. In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the state where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, USCIS may provide further guidance on this question in the future.

Questions Remaining

Can fiance petitions be filed for same-sex couples? Will a couples’ consular processing for these benefits be accorded the same deference by the Department of State? I suspect that issues of marriage fraud will be applied with equal vigor to these cases as well.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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.

Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.

Social Share Toolbar
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather

Civil Unions

Civil unions are usually viewed as a benefit to same sex couples, allowing the parties to legalize their relationship and recognize that they are a couple just like you and me. The Illinois Senate has passed the bill and it has gone up to Governor Pat Quinn for signature. Governor Quinn is scheduled to sign the bill next year. The law could take effect next summer, June 11, 2011. But with this law, Illinois has enacted a law that has widespread effects. The law is called The Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act. The law was enacted because same sex couples were denied marriage benefits, and there was no compelling state interest or rational basis to deny same sex couples these marriage benefits. The bill particularly mentions that the purpose is not to interfere with religious freedom or beliefs about marriage. The bill will apply equally to same and opposite sex partners (something new) who want to enter into a civil marriage or union. Same sex partners will be called ‘spouse’, ‘immediate family’, and ‘dependent’. This is important because it has implications for divorce, probate law and other domestic relations law. So same sex couples can marry, divorce and have standing in court to sue on these actions. They can also inherit under probate law as a civil union spouse, sue for emotional distress, wrongful death, loss of consortium under Illinois tort law. As spouse, they can apply for insurance benefits – health and accident, be eligible for group insurance in employee insurance plans. Under Illinois tax law, they will be eligible as spouses for taxes and tax deductions as spouses and dependents. Marriage, under the Illinois law, is prohibited between siblings, uncle and nephew, aunt and niece. Because same sex couples are treated as ‘spouses’ under the marriage and divorce law of Illinois, they can now share rights to make end of life decisions, nursing home decisions, transfer of property to spouses, and survivor benefits. Under workers’ compensation rules, ‘spouses’ can claim benefits. Did I say there was something different about this bill? Well, heterosexual couples who do not want to marry, can opt for a civil union and enjoy the same benefits as a married couple would do. Why, you ask? Let us say that a couple is interested in a domestic partnership because they face loss of health insurance and other benefits, or seniors who will lose their social security survivor benefits, pension or income if they remarry, then this bill offers a way out. Seniors can also now have the right to make emergency decisions for their ‘spouse’ under this new law. It recognizes the relationship without the concomitant problems of marriage. So it provides straight couples some legal support but no title of marriage. Employers should review their employee benefits, especially health insurance, and family leave benefits and their compliance with applicable labor laws. Couples who opt for civil unions under this law can also make end of life decisions–they do not have to have powers of attorney to end, for example, a vegetative state. Remember the Terry Schaivo case? They also have the right to make funeral home decisions and take charge of the remains. But these protections are offered only at the state level and have no application at the federal level. Tax law, immigration law and a host of other laws will not recognize these relationships as spouses. I guess you could then claim a ‘spouse’ under the new law as a dependent under state law but not federal law. The federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, recognizes marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. DOMA does not recognize civil unions even if the union is recognized by the state. This is a legal conundrum because the full faith and credit clause of the US Constitution makes it mandatory to recognize the laws of another state in the Union, and accord foreign state laws equal application and status. But same sex unions or marriages are non-existent in federal law. A United States Citizen or legal permanent resident cannot sponsor a same sex partner of foreign citizenship to live with them in the United States as their ‘spouse’. Same sex marriage was banned in California after Proposition 8 was passed. But on August 4, 2010, a federal district court decided that such a ban violated the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution. The equal protection clause does not guarantee equality among individuals or classes but only that the laws would be applied equally to all. The question remains for us: are some more equal than others? Is the federal government practicing discrimination by the unequal application of laws, or by denying rights to some? Is this a slippery slope we should not venture on?

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA

Attorney at Law

www.lawyersyoucantalkto.com

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.

Social Share Toolbar
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather