Unemployment for Relocating With a Spouse

Eligibility for unemployement is determined by where you earned your wages.

If your spouse is relocated and you have to quit your job to move, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits, depending on the state in which you currently work. While the unemployment compensation program has oversight from the federal government, it is a state-provided benefit and each state has its own laws that establish eligibility for benefits and a maximum benefit amount.

Trailing Spouses

States generally fall into three categories based on how they address unemployment benefits for "trailing spouses" in their laws: those that provide benefits; those that provide benefits to military spouses only; and those that either exclude or make no mention of these circumstances in their laws. The laws of the state in which you earned your wages will apply to you, regardless of what state you move to or where you file for unemployment. If you are eligible for benefits, you may have to register with the state unemployment agency closest to your new residence and periodically show proof that you are actively seeking employment.

States Providing Benefits

As of May 2011, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin each provide the same benefits to trailing spouses as to laid-off workers, regardless of military status. However, states have different stipulations in their laws. For example, Kentucky requires that the state to which you move also has a trailing-spouse benefit; Massachusetts and Rhode Island require that you have eight weeks of work with wages in excess of your benefit amount in order to be eligible; North Carolina requires a two-week waiting period; and Oklahoma establishes a minimum commute distance of 50 miles. Some states apply the law more broadly. For example, California includes domestic partners and the New York law applies to any "compelling family reason," of which a spouse's transfer is specifically mentioned.

States Providing Benefits to Military Spouses

Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington each have laws, as of May 2011, that provide the same unemployment benefits provided to laid-off workers to trailing spouses of the military. Each state has nuances in its law around eligibility. For example, Maryland includes civilian military employees and employees of federal agencies involved with military operations. South Carolina requires that the separation take place within 15 days of the spouse's transfer. Nevada places the burden on the employer to notify the state unemployment commission

States Not Providing Benefits or Not Addressing the Issue

The remaining states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico, either do not provide unemployment benefits to trailing spouses or do not address the issue in their unemployment compensation legislation. If the state from which you are moving makes no mention of your circumstances, it still might be worth applying for unemployment and having an opportunity to state your case to the program director. In many states, the unemployment commissioner has the authority and discretion to grant unemployment in special cases.

Prevailing Law

If you have to quit your job to move to a different state, you can apply for unemployment insurance in either the state in which you earned your wages or the new state to which you move. However, the state in which you earned your wages will be responsible for reimbursing the new state under the Interstate Benefit Payment Plan, and the laws governing your benefits will be those of the state that pays. You will have to register with the unemployment agency closest to your new residence and may have to check in with that agency periodically to demonstrate that you are actively looking for work.

Your Claim Could Initially Be Denied

It's not unusual for an unemployment insurance claim to initially be denied when it's due to either a civilian or military spouse's relocation. After you file a claim, the state unemployment agency will ask your former employer for information about how you terminated. Your former employer may report that you quit voluntarily rather than being laid off or let go by the company, which typically makes you ineligible for unemployment benefits. Depending on the information provided by your former employer and the person reviewing the claim, the claim may be denied simply because you quit your job. If your claim is denied, request a hearing where you can go before the unemployment agency and explain the reasons for your unemployment application.

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