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DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ISSUES GUIDANCE ON THE DEFINITION OF "SPOUSE" AND "MARRIAGE" UNDER ERISA

 

On September 18, 2013, the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the US Department of Labor issued Technical Release 2013-04 on the definition of "spouse" and "marriage" under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which regulates employee benefit plans. The need for such guidance arises from the Supreme Court decision in the case of US. v. Windsor, which held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. (See Labor Watch, Vol. 2013, No. 8). Section 3 of DOMA provided that in determining the meaning of any federal law or regulation the word 'marriage' meant only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' referred only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

 

The Technical Release states that the term "spouse" will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages. Similarly, the term "marriage" will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law. The terms "spouse" and "marriage," however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law.

 

The Release explains that EBSA adopted this rule that recognizes marriages that are valid in the state in which they were celebrated, regardless of the married couple's state of domicile because it provides a uniform rule of recognition that can be applied with certainty by stakeholders, including employers, plan administrators, participants, and beneficiaries. This is consistent with the core intent underlying ERISA of promoting uniform requirements and administration for employee retirement and welfare benefit plans.

 

EBSA intends to issue future guidance addressing specific provisions of ERISA and its regulations. In the meantime, employers and plan administrators must begin to review and plan to amend their retirement and welfare benefit plans to ensure timely compliance with this rule.

 

The Labor Law Group at Fiddler González & Rodríguez, P.S.C., will issue the FGR LABOR WATCH with information of legal issues and developments in areas of interest to our friends and clients. If you know anyone who would like to receive the FGR LABOR WATCH, please feel free to forward this newsletter. For more information about any matter raised in this Labor Watch, please contact your usual FGR labor lawyer or José A. Silva Cofresí at jsilva@fgrlaw.com.

©2014 FIDDLER GONZÁLEZ & RODRÍGUEZ, P.S.C. Permission is granted to view, store, print, copy or distribute the content of this newsletter for noncommercial or personal use, provided you do not alter it and you give us proper credit. The content of this newsletter is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice or advertising. In addition, the above discussion has been provided in general terms and, therefore, should not be relied upon as legal advice applicable to a specific set of facts and circumstances. Before taking legal action, consult a lawyer you trust. Although we will try to be accurate, you cannot rely on its applicability to your specific problem without consulting your lawyer. Fiddler González & Rodríguez, P.S.C. and the members of the Labor Law Group assume no responsibility to inform you of additional changes in law or any other legal issues related to matters addressed in this email of which we may become aware after the date hereof. This newsletter is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and our firm or any of our attorneys. If we are not already representing you, be mindful that your email communications to any of our lawyers will not be treated as privileged or confidential until you ask us to represent you, we first conduct a conflict of interest search, we agree to represent you and you sign an engagement letter from the law firm.

***IRS CIRCULAR 230 DISCLOSURE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the Internal Revenue Service, we inform you that any United States federal tax advice in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written by Fiddler González & Rodríguez, P.S.C. to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. **

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