Couples Rights: Married Couple vs. Non-Married Couples

As divorce attorneys, it is often useful to recall the reasons that people get married in the first place. We may try not to be cynical of the union of marriage, but it is easier said than done when every day is spent helping people navigate through their divorces. And, especially in light of the monumental victories that have recently come for same sex couples and the right to marry, it may be a better time than ever to take a step back and examine some of the reasons why people may decide to get married, or why people ever fought for the right to marry.

Aside from LOVE, which is probably the most obvious reason that people seek to get married (hopefully), and then the cultural or religious expectations of marriage and then beginning a family, there are benefits enjoyed by people who are legally bound by marriage that non-married people simply aren’t entitled to. And although wherever there are pros, there must also be cons, the remainder of this article discusses just some examples of those pros, which makes marriage seem like more of a rational decision than simply an emotional one.

Importantly, a couple’s legal status is of consequence at the time of one partner’s death. If married, the surviving spouse has rights to inheritance in the absence of a will, to receive Social Security benefits of the deceased spouse, to receive bereavement leave from work, and to file wrongful death claims. Unmarried persons are not entitled to any of these rights at death and may face an uphill battle trying to fight for what they believe they are entitled to.

It also becomes relevant with health-related issues. For example, an unmarried person will likely be unable to cover his or her partner under his or her employer’s health insurance policy. And, when an unmarried person is hospitalized, his or her partner may not have visitation rights and will not be considered next of kin for purposes of making emergency medical decisions, as opposed to a spouse who would be.

Unmarried couples are unable to file joint tax returns, or enjoy some of the other tax benefits that may be available to married couples. An unmarried person will also be subject to tax consequences for things such as transferring property to a non-spouse, which may ultimately make pooling resources more difficult.

When unmarried couples separate, they do not have the benefits of the courts to handle things like property division, and they are most likely not entitled to spousal support, as a married spouse would have been. However, unmarried couples may be able to seek remedies under contract law theories rather than family law.

Further reasons for marriage, or benefits therefrom, include immigration considerations, spousal privileges that protect spouses from having to testify against one another in judicial proceedings, and also retirement benefits. There are of course, numerous other considerations that have not been addressed here. But again, in briefly examining the practical benefits or reasons behind becoming legally married, it becomes easier to see marriage as less of an emotional decision and more of a reasonable next-step to take with the person that you love.

Whether you married for emotional or practical reasons, going through a divorce is never easy. It is important to have competent and understanding legal counsel by your side. Please contact us if you are considering a divorce, a legal separation, or simply have questions regarding the dissolution process. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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