Do I Qualify for Spousal Benefits if I’m in a Legal Non-Marital Relationship, Like a Civil Union?

Older, mature, senior gay male couple, affectionate and in love, working together on financial documents at their dining room table at home.
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Spousal benefits are a great way to boost your Social Security benefit (sometimes by as much as $800 a month), and even if you are not in a traditional marriage, you could be entitled to receiving them.

See: 9 Things Most Retirees Don’t Know About Social Security
Find: Social Security Refund: Here’s Why Some College Students Can Get Money Back

Non-traditional marital relationships, like civil unions and domestic partnerships, vary in terms of benefits qualification by state. As far as federal benefits are concerned, all same-sex marriages are legal and qualify for benefits, but this is specific to marriages. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are not recognized by every state, which means you will need to check your particular state’s laws to see if your civil union or partnership is even recognized.

At the federal level, which holds jurisdiction over Social Security payments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes some legal non-marital relationships, like civil unions, for the purposes  of receiving benefits — but not all.

Social Security is now already processing some retirement, surviving spouse and lump-sum death payments for same-sex couples in non-marital legal relationships like some civil unions, and paying benefits when they are due, according to the SSA’s site. The key word here is “some,” as whether or not a domestic partnership or civil union is afforded benefits similarly to formal marriages remains a tenuous prospect in many jurisdictions.

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The SSA advises, however, that the best thing to do is apply as soon as possible for benefits, even if you are unsure of your eligibility. If you are unclear as to your eligibility, your case can take more time to investigate and complete, so applying as soon as you can will ensure you receive the right information faster. Applying sooner rather than later will also protect you against any loss of future benefits.

Learn: 5 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About Social Security
Explore: All the States That Don’t Tax Social Security

If your spouse is still living, it might be easier to convert your union into a marriage for the purposes of claiming Social Security benefits without the hassle, should this be legally possible.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 

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