Marriage of convenience.
April 25, 2005 4:58 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I are considering marrying so I can get health care benefits.

Has anyone here done this or something like this? I found a thread here about prenups, but that didn't seem to address a marriage of convenience.

We want to keep our financial lives as separate as possible. There must be a blueprint for this sort of thing.
posted by goofyfoot to Law & Government (19 answers total)
Some employers allow health benefits for domestic partners. Is that an option?
posted by sexymofo at 5:25 AM on April 25, 2005

I presume you're both U.S. citizens? Because if not, marriages of convenience are the quickest way to get deported. Just sayin'.

/immigration law pedant-in-training
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:11 AM on April 25, 2005

My exwife and I did not believe in marriage, however the only way to get my health insurance (she had none) to pay for a pregnancy and birth was to get married. So we did, and 17 months later, our son was born.

In the long run, our lives would have been simpler and our finances less affected, if we had stayed unmarried and found another way to finance the baby.

A marriage of convenience is anything but convenient.
posted by mischief at 6:18 AM on April 25, 2005

IANAL, but California seems to be an at-least-partial community property state, which is going to put some hard limits on how separate you can keep your financial lives.

What you want is a prenup that negates as much as possible of the community property stuff -- a document that says whatever you buy is yours and whatever he buys is his, and that neither of you get any of the other's pension, and so on. I'm sure you could get a lawyer to draw up such a document for you, but I probably wouldn't tell the lawyer that you're doing so as part of a sham marriage for health-care benefits -- just a statement that "This is what we want, and why isn't your business."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:23 AM on April 25, 2005

mischief- I'm curious about your response. What were the less-than-desirable implications you encountered?
posted by mkultra at 6:34 AM on April 25, 2005

This will effect some other things beyond immigration and prenups:

1) You will have to file taxes as a married person (probably married, filing separately). It's not likely, but getting married may negatively affect your taxes. But then again, if you're getting married to get health insurance, I don't think this is a big concern

2) Certain things that you buy will be presumed to be shared between you. The biggie is a house. In most states, even if you buy a house with no involvement from your friend, the state will recognize that he has a one-half interest in it. This may also apply to cars, but I'm not sure on that one. If you do buy one of these things during the marriage, it will greatly complicate the divorce.

3) I'm assuming that you won't stay married forever, so you'll have to either get a divorce or an annulment. In most states, annulments are expensive and hard to get, so don't go into this scheme thinking that you can simply annul the marriage. To get an annulment in most states, you would have to show that you were either legally (i.e. you were already married or you were too young) or mentally (i.e. too drunk to understand you got married - see: Spears, Brittney & Rodman, Dennis) incapacitated. Look here for more.

Divorces can also be somewhat expensive, from the various court costs and such. Beware that your credit rating will take a hit upon divorce, which can be pretty devastating if your credit isn't good to begin with.

4) Xeno is right about the community property aspect of your marriage. Anything valuable that either one of you accumulates during the period you are married is normally split 50/50 upon divorce. "Valuables" in this instance can include education (like a post-graduate degree) that could entitle the other person to half the future earnings potential that results from that degree. That is to say, if one of you gets a law degree during the time you're married, the other might get half your salary.

You can avoid complications by following Xeno's advice, and get a detailed pre-nup. This offers protection if the relationship goes sour. You could also try the informal route, by which you simply agree before divorce who gets what and tell the judge that you've divided the estate amicably. Beware, however, that the judge doesn't have to believe you when you say this, and can divide the estate themselves.

There's probably lots of other stuff, but these were a few thoughts that I had. I hope this helps.
posted by thewittyname at 6:49 AM on April 25, 2005

Marriage seems extreme.

If you are going to be scamming, scam being domestic partners. Ask what they need and then fake up some forms that you have been living together. I don't think it's hard to fake those requirements.
posted by xammerboy at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2005

As opposed to other countries where your only option to get a job is to marry someone. Or countries where there just isn't any cheap health care to speak of.
posted by grouse at 7:19 AM on April 25, 2005

Why not just invent a fake person and marry them? A scam is a scam.

/not scam-free
posted by craniac at 7:46 AM on April 25, 2005

goofyfoot, please ignore the nay-sayers above. Frankly, if you and someone you know decide that you would like to be married, its no one's damn business why you are doing so.

That having been said -- IANAL, and I live on the other coast, but it seems to me from where I sit that California does have some fairly specific and hardcore community property laws, and that it would clearly be to the benefit of both you and your future spouse to carefully consider the full economic impact of this decision to each of you. This will probably involve, at a minimum a written agreement as to what would happen to the property you bring into a marriage, as well as any property accumulated by each of you during the marriage, should the marriage end. You also probably want to get some tax advice as to how your marriage will impact your tax status.

Speaking as someone who is currently insured as domestic partner, I don't think that's the route to go. At least through my sweetie's place of employment, we had to sign and have notarized a document affirming under penalty of perjury that we were living together "in a committed, romantic relationship", that we had done so for at least one year, and we had to produce some proof that our finances were intertwined (proof of a joint checking account was enough for us). Its interesting to note that being married does not require you to do any of these things - you just need to pay the fees, go through the ceremony, and accept the tax implications. No need to live together or get joint bank accounts or sign a paper that says that you love each other -- just pay the fee and sign the contract.

Pretty simple choice if you ask me.
posted by anastasiav at 8:28 AM on April 25, 2005

The biggest problem of being married when neither one of you believe in marriage is waking up each morning to the realization that you are married. It is very much like imprisoning an atheist in a monestary.

The worst part though was my ex got herself into a huge financial bind, and because we were married, I had to absorb the bulk of it. Prenup or no prenup, if their lawyers want to drag you into court, they will and you had best have a lawyer at your side to defend you. I had to choose between paying off her creditors and eliminating the problem, or paying an unknown amount for my own lawyer with an uncertain outcome.

Then came time for the divorce, and custody issues raised their heads. Basically, it was a mess and the entire mess could be traced back to that single piece of paper, literally.

Simply put, marriage is only for those who firmly believe in it. Playing house may solve some short-term issues, but it could raise some rather enormous long-term issues.
posted by mischief at 8:48 AM on April 25, 2005

I would at least look into the domestic partners bit, if you haven't already. I am receiving insurance from my SO's employer as it's much better than the insurance i can get at my own job. We didn't have to prove anything (unlike anastasiav), we did have to click the checkbox on the website saying that we were in a serious relationship with no plans to end it. No notarized document, no joint bank account statements, nothing.
posted by escher at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2005

The California state law regarding domestic partnership restricts it to same-sex couples (unless at least one person is 62+ years old -- then opposite-sex is okay.)

But some employers voluntarily extend benefits to domestic partners not recognized by the state.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2005

marriage would seem to have long-term consequences that far outweigh the short-term benefit of securing health insurance at a cheaper rate. Even if you think the marriage is just a technicality, there are lots of ways this could become a lot more serious than you intend: i.e., kids, spouse racks up huge debts, you/spouse find someone you really want to marry but are stuck in the sham marriage, your/spouse's family aren't hip to the whole fake marriage thing, etc.

Changing your employment situation to obtain the insurance would seem to be a less drastic way to go.
posted by Mid at 9:50 AM on April 25, 2005

My brother's girlfriend remained married to her ex for something life four or five years to keep his health insurance. He was obviously OK with it, which is good considering her major medical problems. Only after a few months in a steady job with decent heath benefits did they get a divorce.

I'd definitely consult a lawyer and draw up a prenup to protect each of your personal assets. After that, though, I don't see why you shouldn't go for it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:04 AM on April 25, 2005

Changing your employement situation to obtain insurance isn't always easy, Mid, when your skill set isn't much in demand where you're at. You're left working menial jobs that don't offer insurance, but where you at least have the support of friends and family, or moving to a city far from your community support.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you all (especially Xenophobe and wittyname.)

Domestic partnering (if that's a word) isn't an option; we're not planning to live together. We've talked about marrying, off and on, for ten years; my psoriasis has become severe enough for us to finally decide to go ahead. It's the financial ramifications I'm concerned with; I don't know how specific prenups can be.

Our situation can't be that unusual.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2005

I've known several people who've been in marriages of convenience both for immigration and health care issues. In all cases, the people involved were already longtime friends, and had a clear understanding that the arrangement was for the legal benefits it would confer one partner only. (In one case, they drew up a prenup agreement to that affect with the help of a sympathetic lawyer friend.) In each case, being married didn't affect the friendship, and no one had a lot of property to speak of at the time, so that question wasn't really of concern. As for taxes, I believe they all went with the "married, filing separately" option, which can cause you a bit of a hit, unfortunately. You may want to consult with an accountant.

As for this:

"Divorces can also be somewhat expensive, from the various court costs and such. Beware that your credit rating will take a hit upon divorce, which can be pretty devastating if your credit isn't good to begin with." not necessarily true. In CA, there's a very simple type of divorce called a summary dissolution that you can go through under certain circumstances (married less than 5 years, no kids, low amount of shared property). I handled my own summary dissolution divorce about 4 years ago, and if I recall correctly it cost me all of $200. (My credit didn't take a hit, either.) You and your friend may wind up being married more than 5 years, of course, or there may indeed be more complicated property issues involved, but I just wanted to point out that a divorce is not necessarily a complicated, expensive process. (All of the marriage-of-convenience couples I knew are now divorced, and they all had a relatively easy time of it as well.)
posted by scody at 11:03 AM on April 25, 2005

I can understand why you'd want to go through with it (I have mild psoriasis), and it may be a good idea. I'm sure you can get a prenup if you want, since really it's just a special kind of contract--so long as you both agree to the terms, the terms can be almost anything not expressly illegal.

I would ask you, though: how old are you and your friend? What happens if you fall in love with someone and want to get married for real? Divorce is a pain even if neither party objects, and just the fact that you're married (even if only technically) may be enough to turn some potential love interests off.

You certainly wouldn't be the first people to marry for such a reason, nor the last. Sit down and talk about all the potential ramifications. If you can afford lawyers, you should each ideally have one to work out the details of the prenup, but given the reason you want to get married I suspect you probably can't. In that case, perhaps you should try a do-it-yourself prenup book or program or somesuch.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:42 PM on April 25, 2005

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