Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Case Law Development: Unmarried Cohabitants Do Not Qualify as "Spouses" under Insurance Contract

The Alaska Supreme Court holds that an insurance company need not extend benefits to an unmarried cohabitant of an insured under a benefits provision for "spouses" and that this policy does not violate the Alaska Human Rights Act's prohibition of marital status discrimination.  The couple in this case had been married for 13 years, had divorced, Husband had remarried and divorced and then the couple had reunited but had not remarried.  They had been living together for several years when Husband was hit by a car.  He and Wife sought to collect under the insurance policy. The court found that the language of the policy, extending benefits only to "spouses" was unambiguous and, even under a "reasonable expectations" interpretation could not extended to unmarried cohabitants. 

Husband also relied on the court's decision University of Alaska v. Tumeo, 933 P.2d 1147 (Alaska 1997), in which the court held that the University of Alaska violated the Human Righst Act by denying benefits to domestic partners while granting those benefits to married individuals. However, the court noted that the Alaska legislature had amended the Human Rights Act to allow differential benefits for married and unmarried individuals after that decision, so there was no discrimination by the insurance company here.

Cole v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2006 Alas. LEXIS 10 (January 27, 2006)
Opinion available on the web (last visited January 30, 2006 bgf)

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