What are the legal benefits of marriage?
February 9, 2004 10:50 PM   Subscribe

All right, what are the legal benefits of marriage?

I'd prefer to avoid any references to cultural standing or nebulous bestowals of legitimacy and equality. What I'm interested in knowing about are cold, hard legal/financial priviliges/manuevers/tricks/benefits available to married people that aren't available to others similarly committed.
posted by namespan to Law & Government (14 answers total)
in the US?
posted by rhyax at 11:08 PM on February 9, 2004

In the U.S., marriage is (for now anyway) reserved to the states. Your question thus has fifty answers - you'll have to be more specific.
posted by PrinceValium at 11:15 PM on February 9, 2004

There appears to be a tax advantage under federal law, assuming Turbotax isn't lying to me.

Certain inheritance rules are streamlined. As are other benefits like employer health insurance, pensions etc.

A spouse who is left may have legal rights to alimony and child support.

True, a lot of this could be part of a civil union law, and many localities have common-law marriage rules (heterosexuals only) and domestic partnership laws (you have to register etc). And you can accomplish a lot of the same stuff with contracts, but you'll probably have to hire a lawyer and dot all the T's.

And it gives you legal standing to settle your loved one's affairs without meddling from his/her family. For example, any number of live-in companions, fiancees etc. of people who died on 9/11 suddenly found themselves pushed aside by the dead person's family, previous spouse, etc. in claiming compensation or even hanging on to the rent-controlled

So, yeah, there are some legal benefits, and it's obviously discrimination and probably unconstitutional to deny those rights to some people because somebody's backward religion says people who love each other that way are damned to hell.
posted by Slagman at 11:27 PM on February 9, 2004

And, uh, cross all the i's too.
posted by Slagman at 11:28 PM on February 9, 2004

There's good information about the advantages and disadvantages of marriage in the book Unmarried to each other. The couple that published it also runs the Alternatives to Marriage Project.

AMP's FAQ page has answers to questions such as What are the legal implications of not marrying my partner? How can I make sure we have the same protections as married people?

Like others have said, marriage benefits vary greatly from state to state. In Virginia it is almost impossible to take out a joint mortgage with someone you are not married to (this includes siblings and old friends as well as significant others). In many states, marriage simply guarantees automatic rights that you can secure otherwise by taking a few extra steps.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:58 PM on February 9, 2004

It makes it a heck of a lot easier to immigrate to the country of your spouse's origin.

When I was getting ready to move to the UK, I had the option of coming over as a spouse and being able to work immediately, or coming over as a partner and not being able to work for a year.

Guess which option I took.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:48 AM on February 10, 2004

This article has some of them.

A 1997 study by the General Accounting Office found 1,049 federal laws in which marital status is a factor. These range from the obvious, such as in joint tax returns, to the obscure but potentially important for certain individuals, such as in determining who gets life insurance proceeds when a federal government worker dies without specifying a beneficiary.

Federal tax law offers numerous benefits to married couples. For example, money and property can be transferred freely between spouses without triggering the gift tax. When married couples make gifts, the gift is presumed to come from both, allowing a married couple to use the full total of $22,000 in annual gift-tax exclusions available to two people, even if the gift comes from only one spouse.

When a married couple sell their primary residence, they may be able to exclude up to $500,000 in capital gains on the transaction, even if the property was listed in the name of only one spouse. Single people get only a $250,000 exclusion.

When a married person dies, he or she may bequeath an unlimited sum to the surviving spouse free of estate tax.

Although the federal estate tax isn't imposed on estates smaller than $1 million, attorney David Buckle of the Lambda Legal Defense fund said he knows of instances in which surviving gay partners have been forced to sell a home or a business to pay the taxes.

posted by Yelling At Nothing at 12:58 AM on February 10, 2004

on the immigration issue, we have had no problems with pauli (chilean) getting a visa for the uk or me (english) getting a visa for chile. without being married.

in the uk there's a tax break for married couples.

in chile (where divorce - and abortion - is not possible) marriage gives children various rights and influences inheritance (when you die, your stuff goes to family, no matter what - so if one of us becomes ill it's important that we sell the other the 50% of the house that we own (for a nominal sum)).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:57 AM on February 10, 2004

You can be on each other health insurance plans. True for partners in some areas, but far from common. You can get in to see him/her in the hospital, and will be able to make treatment choices, if needed. You'll get a share in the pension. College age kids? Both incomes will considered for financial aid.

Marriage makes you a legal unit in good and not-so-good ways. You'll be morally and maybe legally obligated to take care of each other, possibly including debt. If one wins the lottery, the other has a claim to the winnings.
posted by theora55 at 5:18 AM on February 10, 2004

Social Security survivor's benefits are pretty substantial.
posted by pomegranate at 6:02 AM on February 10, 2004

I don't know the exact tax laws, but looking at my take-home pay before and after my marriage, it's about the biggest raise I ever got.

Also: I happened to get married in December and got the entire preceeding year's worth of tax benefits in my refund!
posted by goethean at 8:14 AM on February 10, 2004

There are certain Federal benefits that, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, will not be available to gay couples in the US no matter what they call their union, or how the states sanctify it. So, if Massachusetts somehow manages to get some sort of gay marriage thing going, those people will STILL not be married in the eyes of the Feds without a change in DOMA. They will also not be married in other states, which would have been against the Full Faith and Credit clause of the constituion, pre-DOMA. If I get married to my boyfriend in Vermont, I am considered married in all 50 states and the rest of the world. Civil unions/gay marriages are restricted to the state in which you took your vows and many states have specific laws saying that your union is not valid in their state. If you have a civil union in Vermont and then move to another state, there is no way for you to dissolve your relationship except to go back to Vermont to do it. An interesting side note about Vermont... many businesses such as the University of Vermont that used to extend benefits to same-sex partners [and, by extension, opposite sex domestic partners] now require either a civil union or a marriage for both members of the couple to obtain benefits. In New Hampshire, my boyfriend and I would be eligible for "domestic partner" benefits at many companies, but in Vermont, it's marriage or nothing.

People have been seeing these federal benefits in action in some high profile ways recently. When Rosie O'Donnell took McCalls to court, her partner had to testify against her, despite the fact that they are domestic partners. If they had been "unionized" in Vermont this would have still been true. Spouses are legally protescted from having to testify against each other in Federal court, gay couples are not. Other federal type benefits include social security, international travel, immigration and inheritance and tax law.
posted by jessamyn at 9:14 AM on February 10, 2004

It's not exactly a legal benefit, but auto insurance is cheaper if you are married.
posted by sad_otter at 10:02 AM on February 10, 2004

The creepiest benefit of marriage would have to be spousal privilege--that is, you cannot be forced to testify against your honey in court.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:58 AM on February 10, 2004

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