Should we get married?

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry, it is time to discuss some legal and economic factors a couple might consider (in addition to the religious, societal, and emotional ones) when thinking about whether they should tie the knot:

  • Taxes: Married couples typically get a reduction in taxes. However, if the two would-be spouses have similar incomes, they may incur the dreaded “marriage penalty” and end up paying more in taxes.
  • Estate and gift tax: Married couples can give each other (either during life or at death) an unlimited amount of assets without facing estate or gift taxes. In addition, a surviving spouse can use the deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption to pass additional assets to the next generation tax free.
  • Social security: A surviving spouse can get a survivor’s benefit, and a lower-earning spouse can benefit from a higher-earning spouse’s social security.
  • Employment benefits: Many employers provide employment benefits (insurance, for example) to spouses.
  • Property ownership: Marriage, in Idaho, adopts a variety of default property ownership rules, which can help resolve disputes in the event the couple divorces.
  • Spousal privilege: Spouses can’t be compelled to testify against each other in court.
  • Adoption: Married couples may find it easier to adopt.

So there are many compelling benefits that can only be achieved through marriage — indeed, that’s one of the main reasons same-sex couples fought so hard for the right to marry. The main drawback, of course, is that if the couple decides to separate, a formal divorce proceeding is required. Having said that, sometimes the separation of a couple who never married is actually worse than going through the divorce process.

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