By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Veterans Benefit Attorney

How does the VA define the terms ‘surviving spouse’ and ‘marriage?’  A surviving spouse, according to the VA is someone of the opposite sex whose marriage to the veteran was valid, who was the spouse of the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death; who lived with the veteran continuously from the date of marriage to the date of the veteran’s death; and who has not remarried or lived with another person of the opposite sex or held himself or herself out openly to the public to be the spouse of such other person.  Wow!  Who knew the definition could be so special – that’s called a ‘legal term of art.’

Marriage is further defined as the following “a marriage valid under the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of marriage, or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued.”  These definitions seem very broad, however there are many different issues which can complicate the issue of determining whether someone actually qualifies as a surviving spouse – especially when you’re dealing with multiple remarriages.  Can all of the old spouses be considered ‘surviving spouses’ for beneficiary purposes?  Well, that’s the question that needs to be answered.

Some other conditions and nuances with these laws should be noted. If there was a physical separation due to the misconduct by the veteran without the fault of the spouse, the continuous cohabitation requirement can be waived (not sure how practical that will be to prove).  It appears that if the veteran acted in a way which made living together impractical for both (i.e. cohabitating with a girlfriend or boyfriend) – the requirement can be waived.  In essence, you need to provide a statement from the surviving spouse to validate this. Oh, and may have them admit it is his or her fault the couple is not living together.

There are other requirements that also have exceptions.  The regulations say the surviving spouse must remain unmarried after the death of the veteran to stay eligible for the death pension; yet there are still exceptions to this rule.  For a surviving spouse who has remarried to still be eligible for a non-service-connected disability pension benefit the later remarriage must be declared void, annulled, or terminated before November 1, 1990.

There are other exceptions to the marriage regulations but with that being said, give me or an attorney that is versed in the area of VA-related law a call.

To discuss your NJ Veteran Pension Benefit matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.