Washington Law Review


In an era when attitudes toward marriage institutions are changing and it has become a truism that governmentally dispensed benefits constitute "the new property," the extent to which marital status is a determinant of the right to receive such benefits is a subject of particular interest. The purpose of this article is to survey that subject. More specifically, this article will trace congressional and administrative efforts to arrive at acceptable definitions of who should be treated as a wife/widow (or husband/widower), so as to be entitled to particular statutory benefits, and similar efforts to define when the status- relationship has become so attenuated or remote as to justify suspension or termination of the benefit payments. Considered in detail will be definitions under veterans' compensation and pension laws, under the so-called "insurance" provisions of the Social Security Act, and under the Railroad Retirement Act, statutes which represent a range of types of income maintenance legislation and funding sources. Substantial emphasis will be placed on the historical development of the definitions for each of these laws and on the stated reasons for particular inclusions or exclusions. The approach will frequently be uncritical, the primary objective being to determine what the law has been and is rather than to suggest what it should be. While the benefits and eligibility requirements of these laws will be summarized, the summaries are provided for background purposes only and are not intended to be exhaustive. Other laws will be discussed summarily for comparative purposes.

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