Court: Social Security Can Treat Divorced Women Differently

1976

In Mathews v. De Castro, the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the Social Security Act, which gives benefits to married women with dependent children when their husbands retire or are disabled but denies the same benefits to divorced women, violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. Recognizing that the Fifth Amendment right of due process includes rights to equal protection, the Court says that the Social Security Act’s differing treatment of married and divorced women is constitutional because Congress acted rationally. Specifically, the Court finds that the distinction between married and divorced women is consistent with the law’s primary goal of providing workers and their families with basic protection against hardships due to illness or old age and that Congress did not act irrationally when it decided to defer monthly payments to divorced wives of retired or disabled wage earners until they reach the age of 62 because the law reflected that divorced couples typically live separate lives.