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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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.

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