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Rights and Benefits of Marriage

Rights and Benefits of Marriage

Although a couple may not need a marriage certificate to care deeply about one another, there’s no denying that one little piece of paper bestows many rights on people who have it. American society has long valued the relationship of marriage. For this reason, laws are structured to encourage people to marry. Married couples receive many benefits from government agencies and even private businesses, from eligibility for certain types of government payments to advantages in the medical arena.

Although a couple may not need a marriage certificate to care deeply about one another, there’s no denying that one little piece of paper bestows many rights on people who have it. American society has long valued the relationship of marriage. For this reason, laws are structured to encourage people to marry. Married couples receive many benefits from government agencies and even private businesses, from eligibility for certain types of government payments to advantages in the medical arena.

1. Government benefits

Federal, state, and local governments create laws and regulations that govern how our societies operate. Elected and appointed officials have a great deal of power, and they use it to reward what is typically considered good behavior and to discourage or punish what is usually considered bad behavior. One common example is the criminal law system, which literally punishes people who violate societal norms.

However, governmental power is also used to encourage desired behaviors. Married people in our country receive many types of advantages, as compared to those who are single:

  • Tax benefits: There are many tax benefits to being married, from the ability to file joint tax returns to eligibility for creation of a family business partnership.
  • Government benefit eligibility: Each spouse is eligible for family-related government benefit programs, such as Social Security benefits, Medicare, veteran and military benefits, public assistance benefits, and workers’ compensation death benefits.
  • Estate planning benefits: Married partners have many more options available to them when it comes to estate planning, including inheritance of a spousal share after death, receipt of exemptions from expensive estate and gift taxes, and the use of certain types of trusts.

The benefits of marriage extend into the private sector, as well.

2. Private benefits

In addition to receiving benefits from government, married couples have many rights in the private sector. Although conferred by private entities, many of the following benefits are regulated by government:

  • Employment benefits: A married person has the right to obtain insurance benefits through his or her spouse’s employer. In addition, a married employee has the right to take certain types of leave offered by covered employers, such as family medical leave. Spouses of married employees also have certain marriage rights to employee retirement plan benefits.
  • Medical benefits: Married couples are generally allowed to visit each other during restricted visitation and are allowed to make medical decisions for one another when no medical power of attorney exists.
  • Family benefits: If married couples later divorce, each has a right to pursue spousal support  and property rights against the other, as well as child-related benefits, such as child support, custody, and visitation, when applicable
  • Consumer benefits: Many companies offer discounts for purchases such as family memberships, insurance products, and tuition.

3. Next of kin status

When you marry, you become your spouse’s next of kin. This is important, especially at hospitals. Next of kin can:

  • Consent to medical procedures in cases of emergency,
  • Enjoy special visiting rights, and after death, can
  • Direct the disposition of the remains of the deceased spouse if, for example, there is a dispute over whether there should be a religious ceremony or not, or when choosing between burial or cremation. A cohabitant is just a friend and does not have these legal rights.

4. Spousal testimonial privileges

All states have two rules of evidence that protect spouses from:

  • Having to testify against one another in a criminal proceeding, except when it involves domestic violence, and
  • Protects spouses from having to reveal confidential communications between a husband and wife. Cohabitants have no such protection.

Benefits after getting married

5. Inheritance rights

In all states, the surviving spouse has the right to inherit from the deceased spouse’s estate, regardless of what he or she puts in his or her will.

Since in the United States, wives tend to outlive their husbands, and husbands tend to have the money, this essentially becomes the right of a widow not to be left penniless.

In other words, a widow can inherit, from her husband’s estate, regardless of what he wants. A deceased cohabitant can leave the other with nothing.

6. Survivorship rights

This is the right to any benefits and assets that accrue to your spouse’s survivors upon his or her death, such as life insurance and Social Security benefits. Often, these benefits depend upon the marital status at the time of death. You can’t enjoy survivorship benefits that accrue to man’s widow if you were never his wife. So, cohabitants do not enjoy rights of survivorship.

7. The right to file joint tax returns

Married couples can elect how they will be taxed. They can choose to pay taxes separately or jointly, depending on which allows them to owe the least amount of taxes. Cohabitants must file separately.

8. Other benefits

Some other benefits of being married are less well-known. These include the ability to bring certain types of lawsuits, such as a wrongful death lawsuit if your spouse is killed by the wrongful act of someone else. In addition, married couples benefit from a spousal privilege in lawsuits, which prohibits the opposing party from learning about communications that took place between spouses during their marriage.

All of the marriage rights and benefits that couples receive apply regardless of whether the couple is opposite-sex or same-sex.

The specific benefits married couples receive depend heavily on the federal and state laws that apply to them. For this reason, it is critical that you obtain legal advice specific to your situation in the state where you live.

Krista Duncan Black
This article was written by Krista Duncan Black. Krista is a principal of TwoDogBlog, LLC. An experienced lawyer, writer, and business owner, she loves helping people and companies connect with others. You can find Krista online at TwoDogBlog.biz and LinkedIn.


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