May common law spouses be specifically excluded from welfare and pensi
Posted 28 July 2000 - 10:09 AM
Posted 28 July 2000 - 09:05 PM
Posted 29 July 2000 - 02:21 PM
However, but there may be another factor to consider. Congress recently passed the Defense of Marriage Act (I think that is the title), the primary purpose of which is to affirm that, for federal law purposes, marriage is defined as between one woman and one man. (Hard to believe that we need a law to tell us that.)
That statute might have some relationship to this question. Can anyone help here?
Posted 02 August 2000 - 12:05 PM
Therefore, if the state recognizes a common law marriage, the plan does also. However, in documenting the relationship, I suggest the Plan Administrator have the parties fill out, sign and notarize an Affidavit of Marital Status. It is my understanding that once this is signed and notarized, then the couple is truly married and must get a divorce to dissolve the relationship. This formalizes the relationship.
Posted 02 August 2000 - 12:19 PM
The question is whether the plan can be drafted in a fashion so as to refuse to provide benefits to a common law spouse. The question is
I'm not aware of any reason why the plan could not be drafted in that fashion. I think that the plan can define the eligibility conditions in whatever fashion it wants, as long as it does not violate any specific prohibition on discrimination.
None of the above responses cited any law that says that a plan cannot discriminate against common law spouses. If somebody is aware of any such rule, I'd be very appreciative if they could bring it to our attention. (I'm not saying that there are no such laws; I'm just not aware of the existence of any.)
Posted 02 August 2000 - 12:47 PM
In Scott V. Board of Trustees, 859 F.2d 872 (11th. Cir. Ala. 1988), the court held that it is against Alabama's public policy to deny common law marriages the same status as ceremonially solemnized marriages. In this case, an indemnity policy excluded common law spouses from coverage. However, the case never mentions ERISA. Because of this case, according to a contact of mine at Blue Cross Blue Sheild of Alabama, BCBSA does not allow such exclusions in its health plans and will not administer a self-funded plan with such an exclusion.
Despite any decisions like Scott, there are some who argue you can exclude common law spouses, under ERISA, even in a state where there is such a holding. Those who argue this have not been able to present me with any authority for this, except to analogize the situation to the statute of limitations under ERISA (ie, defer to state law, unless the parties have otherwise contractually agreed).
I happen to know about the Scott case because I am in Alabama. I have no idea what other cases may be out there in other states.
Posted 02 August 2000 - 01:02 PM
My position is that state law on this topic is preempted by ERISA. Thus, self-funded plans can be designed without regard to the state law.
Posted 02 August 2000 - 01:55 PM
Why does it matter if it is self-funded or not?
If this is preempted by ERISA, what does ERISA or the federal common law say about this issue? I can understand a general preemption argument, but I don't know what the rule would be absent state law.
I came across a few random cases the other day. For example, in Blessing v. Deere & Company, 985 F.Supp. 899 (S.D. Iowa), the court stated "The issue of what constitutes a common law marriage is not expressly governed by ERISA; the Court therefore applies federal common law. In applying federal common law, the Court looks to Iowa law for guidance on this issue. . . . The Court may properly apply Iowa's state law on this issue, because it does not conflict with ERISA or
its underlying policies."
As another example, in Bond v. Trustees of the Sta-Ila Pension Fund, 902 F. Supp. 650 (D. Maryland), the court speaks of preemption in this context and states the following: "The Supreme Court has also warned, however, that even under ERISA claims, we 'must presume that Congress did not intend to pre-empt areas of traditional state regulation.' Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts . . . . In the instant case, the definition and regulation
of marriage is a traditional area of state authority. Following the approach of Metropolitan Life, this Court will presume that Congress did not intend to pre-empt this area of law. Plaintiff has provided no authority to
rebut this presumption, nor has plaintiff provided this Court with authority suggesting what 'federal common law of marriage' would be."
Posted 02 August 2000 - 03:46 PM
Posted 02 August 2000 - 03:51 PM
I think you got sidetracked somewhat in your reasoning.
Specifically, the question is one of plan design issues; not whether state law or federal law determines whether a party is married or not.
I believe that the state laws limiting plan design issues (e.g., mandating that all common law spouses be treated like regular spouses) are preempted by ERISA.
ERISA does not preempt state insurance laws, so that fully insured plans have to comply with state laws. Conversely, self-funded plans are exempt from state insurance laws.[Edited by Kirk Maldonado on 08-02-2000 at 05:40 PM]