Should we get married?
November 8, 2011 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Should we get married?

I'm a U.S. citizen (female). He's Canadian. We've lived together for two years now (have a lease together) and have integrated many other aspects of our lives. We talk about long term plans (house, kids etc), but neither of us are sold on the idea of legal marriage. Here's why:

I grew watching my parents who got married and stayed together "for the kids" make themselves miserable for 22 years. In short, the constant fighting and misery that continued in order to keep the marriage together has given me a rather jaded view of the whole institution. Sure, some couples are make it and are happy. Half of them don't. I still get those warm, fuzzy feelings watching chick-flics, but when I think about marriage as an institution the romanticisation (sp?) of it fades really fast.

He comes from a culture where many couples don't get married. They still have committed partnerships and families, but the legal marriage part (seen as religious) has largely gone by the wayside.

Neither of us is religious so that's not an issue and neither of our parents care whether we marry or not.

Plus there's the issue of supporting a political institution that is not open to all couples based on their sexual orientation and has historically been used as a means of repression.

But, historical issues aside, our main issue is immigration. He's currently in the U.S. legally on a student visa. But he's thinking of leaving grad school, which means that if he can't get a job, he has to go back.

In our view this unnecessarily and arbitrarily complicates our relationship. We would rather not have to worry about whether or not we'll be forcibly separated every time one of us changes or loses a job depending on which country we're in.

Thankfully, Canada offers a lot of protections for domestic partners. So I can legally emigrate there to live with him if need be without getting married. No such luck in the U.S.

So if we want to stay in the U.S. is our best option to get married? And if so, where? I know the states all have different laws regarding marriage and divorce (not that we're planning on divorce, but we're both rational enough to realize that state law can outrageously complicate things and make breakups more miserable than necessary (a la my parents)). Do you know which states have the most flexible marriage and divorce laws? I also know some states have different legal structures they force on you when it comes to shared property etc. Do you know which states allow you the most leeway for making those decisions yourselves?

Mostly what it comes down to is that we'd really like to have choice in shaping our relationship as it fits best for us. Our different nationalities and the laws regarding recognition of partnerships are making that difficult. We'd appreciate any guidance you can give.

Thanks a bunch.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As you point out, the US makes it really hard to not be married. If you want to stay here, you don't HAVE to get married, but it would make a lot of things easier for you.

As far as where: where you get married has nothing to do with where you get divorced. Just get married at the most convenient place to you. I'm not positive what the divorce rules are, but I'm pretty sure they have to do with where you live, not where you got married (like California's community property law -- it doesn't care where you got married, it cares that you live in California), so you maybe want to figure out more carefully where you move to, but where the actual marriage ceremony happens doesn't affect anything when it comes to their legal structure.
posted by brainmouse at 9:40 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ge married. It makes life easier for everyone in the US who has to deal with either of you.(Taking your word on domestic partnerships in Canada. The mixed couple I know did marry. Primary residence was Quebec. Children were involved.)

Making life easier for everyone will make life easier for you.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:45 AM on November 8, 2011

Divorce laws are dependent on where you are residing at the time of divorce, not where you got married.

As to the concerns in your first paragraph--whether you are married or not, a multidecade relationship is just a different animal than being together for a few years, and I personally think that the legal status of the relationship has little bearing on the potential for things to stagnate, go sour, or stick together for reasons other than being wildly crazy about your partner (kids, property, inertia, dependency are just a few examples). If you don't want to ever stick it out in a loveless relationship for the sake of the kids, for example, you can take that stance EVEN IF YOU ARE MARRIED.

No statistics to back me up on this, but I suspect the long-term outcomes (staying together, being happy) for committed but unmarried couples are not significantly different than for married couples.
posted by drlith at 9:50 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Obviously, no one here can tell you whether or not you personally get married, but it does provide you some advantages in the U.S. (taxes, hospital visitation, not having to testify against your spouse in a court of law... kidding). I got married in about the most lax state in the union (Nevada), but I'm fairly certain that my home state (Texas) is also fairly open about getting married with someone of the opposite sex.
I will add one more experience, just as a note. I was long into the whole "marriage doesn't matter" camp. Getting married makes a huge difference. For instance: no more carrying grudges; you gotta get back in there and fix that shit! The limit on your relationship is now effectively forever, and you need to behave accordingly.
posted by Gilbert at 9:52 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I grew watching my parents who got married and stayed together "for the kids" make themselves miserable for 22 years.

Legal marriage is not the cause of that issue. Having kids is. The legal status of their relationship, as you point out, was not the cause for their staying together. They did it "for the kids." So, if you want to prevent any possibility of feeling like you need to stay in a relationship "for the kids," don't ever have kids.

Good point, World Famous. However, it's not about the kids either. How about this? Don't make each other miserable. Get counseling when you need it. Learn to communicate often and well. Make decisions together. Back each other up. Don't abuse substances. Keep yourself as healthy as you can. All these things help make a good marriage. And if not a good marriage? You can also have a good divorce. People being miserable in marriages? That's all on them. Sorry you grew up that way. Marriage ≠ misery.

Marriage may make things easier for you in the U.S. I recommend talking to an immigration lawyer! However, other than your immigration issue, lots of people are not getting married in the U.S. But, don't think if you stay together for 15 years and have kids and own a house that suddenly "divorce" is easy or that your couplehood won't be miserable. You'll be entangled and may require legal help to become untangled.
posted by amanda at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2011 [18 favorites]

All your issues around marriage sound kind of superficial and somewhat irrelevant. Your parents were unhappily married and stayed together for the kids sake; this could have still been the case had they not been married and 'stayed together' for the sake of the kids. And their marriage would not be your marriage. Also, how does someone else not being able to marry affect your ability to marry? My thought being that just as gays being able to marry doesn't affect straight marriages, regardless of what conservatives think, their not being able to marry is not really relevant to your marriage. Not marrying out of solidarity seems kind of silly, better to fight for marriage for all.

As to divorce, many states are community property and whatever property that comes into the marriage during the marriage is shared. Unless you agree otherwise. People often take their half because they're pissed off when the relationship ends.

And not being married and having kids has it own set of complications and isn't some kind of get of relationship hell free card. The issues of child support, custody, visitation, new partners, moving, etc. still exist.

Get married because you love each, want to try and spend the rest of your lives together, raise children together and want to make a legal obligation of responsibility and commitment to one another. If not, go with plan B.
posted by shoesietart at 9:57 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am in a similar situation. Felt neutral or negative toward the institution of marriage (though my parents, on the whole, have had a loving one), did not feel the need for it, though I do enjoy a good wedding.

Then I met a lovely man from Scotland (born in Canada, dual citizenship). We have been married for three months.

We did not change our names, we have our own bank accounts, and I have to tell you, it's not much different so far! To be fair, we had a very quiet affair, no one but us & the justice of the peace. Some of our friends don't even know yet. We figured we'd get the immigration stuff out of the way, and then have a wedding party.

The only thing is: you have to stay married for two years. Until then, his green card will be temporary. Also, from somebody halfway through, it is not an easy or quick process.

Good luck!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 10:00 AM on November 8, 2011

Getting married is going to make your life a shit ton easier when it comes to legal junk, and you guys are making serious steps toward long-term plans... I don't see why not. Unless this is going to be one of those things that put the crazy pants on one of you.

If marriage as a concept seriously messes with the way you'll see your partner or your relationship (and for some people it really really does) then don't.

I also think the not-getting-married-untill-marriage-equality is very very sweet, but doesn't really help anything. If you want to support marriage equality, suggest all wedding gifts be in the form of donations to a charity fighting for those rights. The people opposing marriage equality will not notice if you (who is living in sin) continues to live in sin forever, but boy do they notice when states make the changeover due to all the sweat and effort of brave people.
posted by Blisterlips at 10:03 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Marriage doesn't change a couple, or at least it doesn't have to.

For a few weeks (maybe months) after we got hitched, people asked me and my wife "how does it feel being married?" After the first week: no different than the month before.

Marriage could be just another way of saying "I want to be with you for as long as I can imagine." If you've been saying that already in other ways, you might be moved by the wedding day itself, by being able to call yourself his wife, and he your husband, but that could be the end of the notable changes. Like Isingthebodyelectric said, you don't have to merge your lives together in some new and nefarious way.

But there's the legal stuff in the US. Being married changes a lot there, though they're things you don't deal with on a daily basis, so you probably don't think of them.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2011

My partner and I got married for immigration reasons. We're both completely disinterested in marriage, but that is what made the decision easy. The marriage means nothing to us; instead, we stay together because we choose to, not because some piece of paper binds us to each other. It can be difficult to distance yourself from all of the baggage associated with marriage, but if you can think of it as a tool that will help you to remain with the person you love, then it becomes a lot less fraught.

Good luck!
posted by sabotagerabbit at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2011

You're an international couple. You don't really have the option of staying unmarried if you want to stay in this country. Go read Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert for what happens if you try this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2011

So if we want to stay in the U.S. is our best option to get married?

If you want to stay in the US with him, you have three options.

(1) Get legally married and he can get a green card as your husband.
(2) If he works and has a degree in a relevant field, he can get a series of TN visas and work in the US at that job. At least until a border agent fucks with him.
(3) If he is pretty shit-hot at what he does, he may be able to get an H or L visa and work in the US in that job. This is difficult.

You want option 1. It is the only one with any degree of certainty about him being able to stay in the US.

And if so, where?

Doesn't matter. Divorce law, and stuff like community property, is governed by where you live, not where you got married.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2011

I would advise against marrying for the convenience. I base that advice on this Ted Talk about a concept called Sliding vs Deciding, but also on the sociology I've read over the years about pair bonding and blah blah blah, I have a cold today I can't be arsed into finding you real articles about anything else.

Now. If you both decide that you are wild about each other and want to stand before your parents/community/anyone and make vows, go for it!

But my interpretation of your concern is "it would sort of suck if we couldn't sit on the couch together" isn't really quite strong enough for me to be super pro-marriage for you two.
posted by bilabial at 11:32 AM on November 8, 2011

We got married (both U.S. citizens, in California) for the tax and financial planning reasons, despite having all the same misgivings you do. Marriage did change things, both in how we related to each other and in how other people treated us. It was a bit of a struggle to work through that and get back to the healthy loving relationship we had before, but I think we have managed that.

Marriage is a useful legal tool, wrapped up in a whole lot of cultural bullshit. If you and your relationship are strong enough to get past that latter part, look at it as a shortcut for a whole lot of contract law, and for the privileges it gives that aren't available through other means.

Aaand: Some of the best evenings we had in terms of discussion our relationship were in going through the Nolo Press book on prenups and writing a prenup. There are basically 3 different ways that marriage is viewed in the U.S., and it's worth going through all of the points they bring up and having the "which of these 3 ways do we view our relationship, and what nuances do we want to apply to those" conversation.

Even if you completely believe in your state's interpretation of marriage, and intend to live in that state for the rest of your life, I highly recommend doing a prenup just for the communication on what you both want your relationship to look like that it'll enable.
posted by straw at 12:01 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, Hon. You have this all backwards.

Marry him because you love him and you are both keen on the commitment.

You can also marry as a business arrangement that facilitates your life together right now, but with the understanding it can all be dissolved by either party at any time. You can (and should) agree to ground rules if/when a break-up takes place.

-You are missing the fact that you are already very entangled (emotionally, practically, financially) if you have been living together for two years! Divorces where there is no house or children involved (IMHE) are pretty much just like a break-up, but with paperwork. You still argue about who keeps the furniture and the cat and that expensive gift someone bought for you as a couple last Christmas.

-Your lives will be much easier from a practical standpoint if you are married. My husband is also not from the US, where we currently live. Not being married would have put so much of our lives on hold, wow, I can't even imagine what a PITA it would have been.


A small story to bring the practical and the emotional side of this together for you.

My friend is Canadian, and her 70 year old father was barred from boarding a plane a few years ago to attend a family reunion over Christmas in the US because his name was similar to yada yada xyz, even though the authorities should have recognized the obvious mistake. He was with his wife and son, but was not allowed to travel with them. Had the trip come off, it would have been the first time in many many years that the entire family was together. It was very sad for everyone.

Now imagine that sort of thing happens (or maybe immigration loses you bf's student visa renewal paperwork, which happened to another friend) and you get separated from each other and you have less rights (under the law, or just for mundane practicalities like refund or transfer of airline tickets) because you are not married or legally family. If that idea doesn't very much bother you, then this guy is probably just a boyfriend. The thought of being separated from each other because of immigration status or similar absolutely terrified us, so we got ourselves legally connected. We were ready for marriage anyway, but injecting legal stability into our situation was super important to us because of the love we felt for each other. I mean, we got married so that the only "authority" that might separate us, is us!

-Not getting married will not mean effect the marriage equality issue. It's a fucking travesty my friends in same-sex committed relationships can't get married legally in all 50 states in the US, but one day soon this will change. Whether or not you personally get married has very little to do with it, I'm afraid.

(If you truly care about this issue and haven't been proactive by volunteering, donating money, or protesting - feel free to get involved and make a contribution! THANKS!!!)


To sum up, marry if you love each other and you are ready. Or marry as a business transaction to facilitate matters in your lives.

Don't get married if you both aren't feeling it. That never works, no matter the original reasons for the union.
posted by jbenben at 12:21 PM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

As to the where, it can matter if you want it to. You can get married anywhere; my spouse and I travelled to be able to marry in a location where same-sex marriage was legal. In our case, we travelled from the UK to Toronto; in your case, you could travel from Your State to Other State to make it happen.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:27 PM on November 8, 2011

You might be interested in the Alternatives to Marriage Project:
posted by lpalmerpaton at 3:33 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're making such a big, complicated deal out of this. Just move to Canada with him, give it a shot. It's nice here.
posted by lizbunny at 8:12 PM on November 8, 2011

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