What are the benefits of not getting married?
January 31, 2022 5:57 AM   Subscribe

What are the benefits of not being married in a long-term committed relationship? We are a cis-het couple who live together.
posted by socky_puppy to Human Relations (35 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: UK based now but one of us is a US citizen in case relevant.
posted by socky_puppy at 5:58 AM on January 31, 2022

The non-US citizen does not have a US tax liability? (Or at least I think you can more easily arrange it so they don't).

Most of the advantages stem around there being less paperwork if you split up. In England and Wales law, except for benefit claim purposes, you are currently treated as no more connected than roommates. This will probably be a financial advantage to one of you over the other, in the event of your separation. It's unlikely to benefit you both equally.

Your entitlement to state benefits depends on whether you live together rather than being married. There can be advantages to not living together, particularly if one of you is entitled to disability-related benefits.
posted by plonkee at 6:10 AM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

Being able to split up without involving a lawyer and lots of paperwork/costs is the biggest one.

Socially and emotionally, maybe being able to be together without that Big Commitment hanging over you works out better for you as a couple. Perhaps you will be less likely to put pressure on each other because you don't have the cultural expectations of being a husband or wife. Marriage can be a big deal psychologically speaking (look at how many couples break up once they realise they don't actually want to be married) and isn't (and shouldn't be) the be all and end all of relationship commitments. It might be a benefit to you to live without those requirements to "perform" as a Good Married Couple.

On a small practical note: no wedding rings to potentially worry about/lose. No need to pay for a wedding or honeymoon. No stupid presents that you don't want from well meaning relatives.
posted by fight or flight at 6:22 AM on January 31, 2022 [7 favorites]

In the USA, if either person is receiving survivor benefits from a previous marriage they would lose that upon remarriage (though after a certain age, remarriage is allowed).
posted by veery at 6:25 AM on January 31, 2022 [7 favorites]

As others have pointed out, a main feature of being unmarried in a long-term relationship has to do with the ease of ending that relationship. Whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to things such as money and property likely depends on the circumstances of the two parties. My own anecdotal experience as someone who was in a long-term living-together relationship for a decade and is now coming up on the 15th anniversary of his marriage, being unmarried had the unintended effect that I never fully committed to that relationship.
posted by slkinsey at 7:16 AM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

In the US, if one partner needs disability benefits, being married can really screw that up royally.
posted by Stacey at 7:20 AM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

The non-US citizen does not have a US tax liability?

That wouldn't be the case in marriage either (the spouse is a non-resident Alien not subject to tax) so I wouldn't count that as an advantage.
posted by vacapinta at 7:23 AM on January 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you are polyamorous, then being unmarried will have effects you may prefer in the dynamic vis-a-vis other partners; for instance, if you want to treat all your partners and partnerships as equally significant to you, then the absence of any marriages in any of your partnerships may help you avoid some perceptions and assumptions that would otherwise arise.
posted by brainwane at 8:30 AM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

When I got married it immediately triggered A TON of weird expectations among people around me that I, a woman, hated and chafed under. (My husband was awesome and none of this was his fault.) Here's a quick brainstorm of what I remember.

-- His family immediately expected me to be part of the extended-family women-only special event planning group. I was suddenly expected to be very involved in planning and delivering events like retirement parties, birthday parties, anniversary parties, barbecues, sports things, trips, etc.
-- I was newly expected to send Christmas cards to my husband's family members.
-- I was newly expected to be available as extended family labour -- like, to visit people in retirement homes, to help with household projects, to pick up and deliver things.
-- There was lots of new emotional labour. Remembering birthdays, health conditions, preferences, etc. His family members called me a lot, just 'keeping in touch.'
-- People seemed to newly assign me 100% responsibility for anything home-based. Like if a guest wanted to know where the extra towels were, or how the washing machine worked, they would ask me, whereas previously I think they might've asked either of us.
-- Various service providers (doctors, dentists) started contacting me to arrange appointments for my husband.
-- People seemed to newly consider me to be responsible for stuff that was really my husband's responsibility, like his health, his weight, his clothing choices.
-- Previously we'd been understood as kinda, IDK, iconoclastic? But after we got married I felt like overall we'd been inducted into some kind of weird heteronormative club. People made lots of assumptions about whose career came first, whether we would have kids, etc. People sometimes got borderline racist/sexist/homophobic around us. That kind of thing.

tl;dr IMO marriage is a very bad deal for women :)
posted by Susan PG at 8:33 AM on January 31, 2022 [69 favorites]

If you're not married, you don't have any legal or financial obligations towards your partner whatsoever. So if your partner does not financially support themselves for whatever reason, you are never legally obligated to support them, and you are never legally obligated to pay alimony or split assets with them if you break up.

Historically this lack of legal & financial obligation towards romantic partners has been (and still is) one of the biggest causes of women's oppression and women's poverty. The reason why your partner may not support themselves might be because they want to play video games or they are doing MLM... but it's much more likely that it's because they are gestating/birthing/parenting the couple's baby, they're providing unpaid care for sick family members, carrying a much larger share of unpaid domestic labor, etc. and when men don't have a legal obligation to split their concrete financial assets with female partners, men reap all the benefits of unpaid gestation & carework provided by women without ever having to reciprocate and women are systematically impoverished. There's also the fact that men divorce their terminally ill wives at a heartbreaking rate whereas women tend to stick with their terminally ill husbands providing (unpaid) care. I don't know what the pattern is when the het couple is not married but it is unlikely to be better for women.

Marriage is a legal agreement that provides a baseline of financial and legal protections for women in hetersexual partnerships. The cultural baggage that comes with marriage, which Susan PG mentioned, are for most part optional. You don't have to participate in any of that, it's entirely up to you to stop hanging out with in-laws who treat you badly for instance. Unless a woman is independently wealthy, or there is some other extenuating factor, it does not make sense for us to voluntarily forego the protections offered by marriage.
posted by MiraK at 8:56 AM on January 31, 2022 [27 favorites]

Getting married would bring out a ton of baggage you probably don’t realize you have. Presuming that you have a family history of marriage, you have expectations of what a marriage looks like — everything from money handling to how meals are handled to how you expect to treat each other when you get home from a hard day at work.

You don’t necessarily have to live out these expectations, but I guarantee they would rock the boat from time to time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:04 AM on January 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

In the UK, this is a good overview of differences between living together and marriage https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/living-together-marriage-and-civil-partnership/living-together-and-marriage-legal-differences/
Seems like a lot of the potential advantages would be around not having to entangle finances and being able to protect one's assets - for instance, if you are married and receive an inheritance, it is quite complicated to "ring-fence" that money just for the person who inherited as it becomes a joint marital asset (do bear in mind I am definitely not a lawyer!). But I guess not being married could be an advantage here if someone wanted to make sure that their assets remain protected in case of relationship breakdown.
posted by coffee_monster at 9:13 AM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

.If you're not married, you don't have any legal or financial obligations towards your partner whatsoever.

In the UK, this not entirely true if you are living together. If you are partners and living together, the government expects you to support each other financially, see plonkee's comment above re:benefits. You will be assessed as a unit anyway, not individually.

When my grandparents started needing care as they aged, they were living together but not married. This was a bit of a nightmare, actually, as some services interpreted them as effectively married and some as not-married, and this interpretation was never in their financial (other otherwise) favour. It was entirely a disadvantage.

Ignoring cultural issues you may have with marriage (still important! But much more YMMV), the only advantage to living together but not being married in the UK is it makes it easier to split up. Which is generally not a good deal for anyone who wants to be a stay-at-home parent.

There are some possible advantages to being not married AND not living together though.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:14 AM on January 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

Wanted to mention that I'm happily married and we never dealt with (or deal with in the case of rings) any of these things!

OK, but anecdata aside, this isn't a "give both sides" question, OP specifically and clearly asked for arguments against being married (and is still, somehow, getting answers saying they should).
posted by fight or flight at 9:17 AM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

A lawful permanent resident of the U.S. (ie, a green card holder) can sponsor his unmarried adult child for a green card but not his married adult child
posted by hhc5 at 10:00 AM on January 31, 2022 [6 favorites]

I am a 50-ish year old woman who is in a long term long distance relationship with my male partner. I have also been married. Not being married is (for me) better. The relationship feels more voluntary. We have very differing money attitudes and this is less of a thing since we are not married. No one expects us to live together. I do have friends who are married and who do not live together and they get a bit more static about the arrangement. My partner has an adult son who is living with him who has a serious mental illness. The son also has a mother who does not live with them. I think us not being married makes it clearer who is responsible for the son who I love and am supportive of but who is not mine. I am a homebody when I am not traveling for work (in the before times) and it's more normative for us to go visiting people individually.

I remember getting a lot of that cishet-normative friction from people when I was married in my 20s (to someone I knew less well than my current partner, kind of a long story there) and I did not appreciate it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2022 [7 favorites]

If you have student loans in the US, your servicer may consider your spouse's income when determining an income-based payment if you're married. If you're filing taxes separately but still married, they still look at the spouse's income, it's just a different formula. Depending on who makes more money, this might be a good or a bad deal. If your married income is proportionally larger relative to household size (i.e. DINK) then the payment goes up. If one of you makes significantly less money relative to household size, payment goes down.

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to access essentially double the first-time homebuyer and area low-income mortgage services. If you're married, it's way harder to be legally a single person buying a home. This might be mostly a US-based difference.

In the US, it is better to be single in the hospital-- if you die, the debt dies with you. If you live, only one partner is legally responsible for the debt barring the other having signed anything to that effect. If you have US-based health insurance it's usually a better deal to be on the same plan, but you may want to keep your own plans separate for privacy or for a better rate.

From my own experience, if you say husband/spouse/wife instead of partner, people make assumptions about the relationship that may not match reality. For example, the people who know we're married address cards to my female partner with my last name on them, which is bizarre and uncomfortable, and just one of many assumptions people make about being a wife. People who just know "partner" and don't know the legal status seem to make fewer assumptions, which we both appreciate. We got married for the health insurance first and second because we like each other, so a lot of the assumptions people make are wrong.

Many beauty pageants require women to be unmarried to compete. In case that is an avenue you are pursuing.

Technically, it's illegal to consider family status, but functionally, many employers make decisions based on family status, especially who gets the overtime or who gets to travel. This mostly benefits men, but sometimes benefits women who aren't perceived as being needed at home and thus free to travel to remote assignments. It's messed up, but I say use that perception to your advantage if you can.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:25 AM on January 31, 2022 [5 favorites]

Back in the day - and even in someplace still - even if one wasn't married, if one acted as-if married, then it became a Common-law marriage.
posted by mfoight at 11:30 AM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yeah not being liable for your partners' debts is a pretty big point in favor of staying unmarried. Of course you never want to think that your partner will secretly build up some enormous credit card debt or whatever but people can surprise you. And in a nightmare society like the US where you're likely to be on the hook for massive medical bills at some point, that's a pretty big deal too.

FWIW in many places in the US you can get a joint healthcare plan as an unmarried couple if you sign an affadavit of domestic partnership. Depending upon your specific reasons for not marrying, that level of paperwork commitment may be too uncomfortably close (going to a notary, signing legal documents, etc.), but it's an option.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:49 AM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

In the US, if you apply for Financial Aid for college, they don't consider your roommate's income; this may be true for applying for other types of assistance.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on January 31, 2022

Sadly, I've seen more than few people face resentment from family members over changing/not changing surnames after marriage.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:01 PM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I loathe the idea and the thought of having to pretend I’m excited about it makes me miserable. My own family are disaster areas in the previous generation and it’s soured me on the idea for good.
One half of the family are sweet but cloying around this, and the other half (mine) spiky and difficult. Not having to navigate this nightmarish prospect and associated hétéronormative crap is a huge plus. I have found that the cultural baggage is not necessarily optional.
We are coming up on thirty years of unwedded bliss.
posted by tardigrade at 1:13 PM on January 31, 2022

I have not been married to my partner for 22 years now. Our relationship is our business, for us (and for close family we care about), which is exactly what weddings and marriage institutions—all the formal and informal expectations and norms of domesticity—tend to negate. At the start both of us loathed the idea of a wedding in which we would be the centre of other people’s attention, but that’s a subset of our more general attitude.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:26 PM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Philosophically, if you don't think the government should enforce your personal relationship choices, that's a benefit of avoiding marriage. You also avoid the patriarchal history of the institution.
posted by metasarah at 1:35 PM on January 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

if you are a woman, you're not expected to take part in a ceremony where one man gives you away to another man. fuck. that. shit.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:53 PM on January 31, 2022 [5 favorites]

(A paradox: Australia recognises de facto relationships very strongly in law, so the material difference here between a ‘common-law’ and a statutory marriage is almost nothing. But it is that way because historically conservatives aimed to deny marriage under the Act to same-sex couples, on the grounds that de-facto would do: which, if you asked any same-sex couple who wanted to be wives or husbands, was missing the point about marriage completely. The norms are powerful and matter, deeply.)
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:19 PM on January 31, 2022

Amazed this didn't coming up in the first couple of answers...

Surely one of the most obvious benefits is not perpetuating a tradition rooted in religion and heteronormative patriarchy? That and related issues with normalising such traditions as well as involving the state in private relationships.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:18 PM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

It can be a lot of work to get married, so not getting married can mean not having to do that work.

Getting married can involve a lot of research and decision-making, including about how you want to handle finances (and what the laws that would apply to you say), what kind of wedding ceremony to do (and figuring out whether your local laws require one), what you want the ceremony to be (even if it's just private), who to tell and how, who to involve in the process, whether you want to tell people to not give you any gifts, when to go get the wedding license, etc.

If you decide to get a prenup, you need to find a family law attorney that you want to work with, get a referral from them or otherwise find a second one for the other person in the couple, make appointments that take place during business hours, do paperwork, and likely pay several thousand dollars.

A simple courthouse wedding still requires making appointments that happen during business hours. For a tiny semi-traditional backyard wedding with a few guests, it can still be a fair bit of money and work to put together rings, clothes, photographer, and whatever else you may want (like flowers, post-ceremony food and drinks, music).
posted by mysh at 8:49 PM on January 31, 2022

All UK couples have access to Civil Partnerships which can be dissolved more easily and still give you inheritance and healthcare decision-making.

They are and aren't marriage, but don't sit within the UK's religious structures.

(Estrangement is an overlooked way to unwind a UK marriage without blame or asset division. Spend 3 years apart, write "Estranged" on the forms, accelerated Decree Nisi.)
posted by k3ninho at 12:10 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Estrangement is an overlooked way to unwind a UK marriage without blame or asset division. Spend 3 years apart, write "Estranged" on the forms, accelerated Decree Nisi.

I agree that it's overlooked and there's no blame, but in England and Wales it's 2 years if the other party agrees, and 5 years if they don't, and it's called 'desertion'. It's not always faster, depending on whether you have an address for the other person. You can get a decree absolute for divorce on any grounds without having a financial settlement in place, but it's not advised as divorce in and of itself does not sever your financial partnership. If you can't negotiate a financial settlement (including if you don't know where they are) then you can ask the court to make an order. The rules are broadly similar in Scotland, although the time periods are 1 year with consent and 2 years without.

Which I think illustrates the benefit of not being married when the relationship falls apart.
posted by plonkee at 1:30 AM on February 1, 2022

In case you ever decide to move from the UK, I second that a lot of places recognize long-term relationships as defacto marriages (common-law marriage). So the points about not being married means not having anything to do with your partner's financials, health, etc might not apply.
posted by gakiko at 2:59 AM on February 1, 2022

In the US, if one partner has a significantly lower income or assets, he or she will pay lower taxes and retain access to lots of means tested benefits during the relationship, while the other partner gets to walk away from the relationship keeping his or her greater assets and (if no kids) that income entirely. Something for everyone…
posted by MattD at 4:50 AM on February 1, 2022

The woman in your relationship won’t have people assuming she’s a “Mrs”, whether she wants to be or not.

And she won’t have some people assuming she’s changed her surname to that of the man’s. (My other half* never considered changing her surname (quite right too) but over a decade after we got married some of her family friends and relatives address cards to Mr and Mrs Fabius. Some people just assume that’s what every couple does.)

* As I typed this I realised I usually refer to her here as “Mrs Fabius”, per MeFi convention, and that is exactly not her name! Damn you patriarchal MeFi conventions!
posted by fabius at 5:46 AM on February 1, 2022

This has already been mentioned a bit, but for me the best benefit of not getting married is that the institution of marriage is not one I think we should support. Years ago a friend shared this speech from a wedding which I think sums up the argument excellently:
Oh hi. I’m Dave. And I’m so happy to be here today to celebrate Dawn, and to celebrate David, and to celebrate Dawn and David. And I’m so honored that they’ve asked me to object to their wedding.

What we know of as marriage began as a Bronze Age economic exchange. To put it mildly, a lot has changed since then. Of course, most marriages are no longer explicitly financial arrangements, nor business agreements intended to solidify family alliances or obtain lands. It is not a sworn contract meant to assure paternity. It is now, ideally, an act between two people who share romantic love. And in a vacuum, that’d be totally fine.

But despite how much the real world sucks, we do not live in a vacuum. It is impossible to separate this marriage we are here to celebrate today from the institution.

I love David, and I love Dawn, and I love David and Dawn. And after today, David and Dawn will be a legally recognized union, and with that recognition the State will provide to them a package of benefits and rights which should be inalienable, and offered to all people regardless of relationship status. It’s awesome that David and Dawn will have these benefits, but the benefits have no real connection to marriage or to each other, and they should not have been withheld in the first place subject to the state endorsing the relationship.

Applying to the State to endorse a relationship is ceding to the State the power to define, condone, and judge the validity of relationships. This is a power they do not have, and it is one I am distinctly unwilling to allow them.

And it’s not just that our government needed to make marriage available to all couples regardless of gender. That is now settled law, and worthy of celebration. But it is still the fact that what ought to be inalienable rights -- hospital visitation from your partner, for crying out loud -- can be capriciously provided and denied based on the whim of governors and judges. Rights provided on a whim aren’t rights, they’re political bargaining chips, and our love for each other, and the life we build with the people we love, is worth so much more than that, whether our partner shares our gender or not. Or whether the people we’re building a home with, or planning for the long-term with, or raising our children with, are our romantic partners or not. There is not one kind of love more valid, or more deserving of recognition, and we still have a long way to go.

It’s not just law that matters, but dominant cultural values as well. Marriage is not the state to which all relationships aspire. It is a choice, and it can be a great one. But it should be one choice available out of many recognized as valid by society. But it isn’t. Not yet. Right now, as far as society is concerned, you are married or you are not yet married. Or you were married but now you’re not, so maybe you will be again. And as that cultural notion that marriage is the ideal state becomes further and further codified, our freedom to make other choices steadily erodes.

What I hope for, and what I hope we will all work toward, is a society open, with full rights, full benefits, full privileges, and full social recognition, to everyone. To couples, yes, married or not. To people single by choice or circumstance, to non-romantic life partners of any sort, to trios, and groups, and communes. To gay, straight, bi- pan- and omni-sexual people. To monogamous and polyamorous and asexual people. To people of any gender and none. To everyone regardless of how and whom they love.

I am so, so happy, David and Dawn, to be here with you. To celebrate with you. To honor the love you have found with each other. To cheer as you get married and to dance all night. I love you. Let’s party. And after tonight, there will be tomorrow. And we still have work to do.
posted by Cogito at 12:44 AM on February 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Weddings are incredibly stressful and expensive and rife for family drama. We tried to basically elope but invite our closest loved ones, did it outside, no food, no photographer...it still somehow managed to cost us 1000$ and be replete with varied tears and conflicts in the lead up.

Then you're married and have to deal with people using words like "hubby" and "wifey". That alone was almost enough to put me off.
posted by EarnestDeer at 5:47 AM on February 9, 2022

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