For people who are living together and building families, getting married is not always automatic. Some couples, for various legal reasons, can’t get married. Some people choose not to get married. I’d like to address some of the legal ramifications of the impact of getting married versus not getting married.
As same gender couples can testify, there are some significant legal benefits that married couples have. For example, a widowed spouse, as well as a divorced spouse of marriages lasting 10 years or more, can receive a higher Social Security payment during retirement, based on the Social Security payment due to the higher earning spouse.
Married couples can file a joint Federal Tax Return, which may be either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the relative income levels of the couple. In many cases, a spouse is entitled to an ongoing portion of a pension should the pensioner pass away. With regard to health insurance benefits, some companies allow the designation of a domestic partner, but many do not. This means that company health insurance benefits may not be available to a partner when the couple is not married. In this day of the high cost of medical insurance, this can be a very significant cost. If hospitalized, a partner often does not get the respect that a spouse would get when receiving information or making decisions regarding medical care, particularly if there is a not a written Power of Attorney.
According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138 statutory rights gained by a couple who gets married. Marriage also means that spouses have legal responsibilities for each other. Some couples choose not to marry deliberately for economic reasons, such as the loss of a pension by a widow or widower. If one partner has significant liabilities or chronic illness, they may not wish to impose potential liabilities on the other. In our complex society, we may marry for love, but are subject to the law, for better or for worse.