Monday, September 19, 2011

Aarestad v. Commissioner

I know, unpublished opinions are not precedent and don't matter much.  Unless of course you are one of the litigants in an unpublished opinion.  Aarestad v. Commissioner is a bad decision.

Aarestad applied for widow's benefits.  The Court held that she "worked only sporadically before the alleged onset of disability (which suggests that her decision not to work was not based on disability) ..."  Did I mention that Aarestad applied for widow's benefits?  Of course she worked sporadically.  She and her deceased husband made a socio-economic decision that she not work because not everyone has abandoned the one-income household model.  Some couples don't have to send both people back to work.

There are clear advantages to a single income household.  Not only the obvious with raising children but also in the mundane day-to-day of living.  If both people work, the chores of cooking, cleaning, and laundry mean that one or both members of the family are working not 40 hours per week but more like 60 hours per week.  That usually defaults to the wife, which is why married men live longer than their bachelor friends and married women don't live as long as their single friends.  Life expectancy is how we make plans.

There is a discrete difference between a lifetime of sloth and a legitimate sociological choice that is in the cultural norm.  A history of sloth can form a legitimate basis for discounting a claim of disability.  A legitimate choice to live on the wages of one partner in the marriage while the other stays home is not a history of sloth or a legitimate basis for discounting the surviving spouse's testimony.

A rule of law is based on the assumptions that under-gird that rule.  Failing to recognize the nuances of the rationale behind a rule of law is dangerous not only to the person involved but to future cases.  The infection starts in misapplication in unpublished opinions, spreads into published opinions, and pretty soon the law becomes absurd.  Charging the stay-at-home partner for a life decision that finds solid cultural and sociological underpinnings is an attack on the social fabric and the family.  The Court needs to divorce itself from the dangerous path that Aarestad takes.  Whether she otherwise deserved to win is a different story but piling on bad reasons is the kind of hyperbole and exaggeration that we all find "not credible."  

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