Did you know that there are many different ways to be tied together with the one you love other than just marriage? Civil Unions are a way to establish your relationship legally, but it has certain advantages and disadvantages when compared to marriage. So when it’s time to choose between civil unions vs. marriage, it can be a little tricky.
People may sometimes not feel comfortable with the religious or spiritual component of marriage, or they may not want to comply with societal expectations of getting married. However, if they wish not to get married but want to still get the same legal rights, a civil partnership offers a good alternative.
Civil union relationships were most common during the years when same-sex marriage was constitutionally considered illegal. For bisexual, gay, lesbian, and trans individuals, registered civil unions offered an opportunity for them to get into a socially-recognized relationship and receive the same legal benefits as heterosexual married couples.
What is a marriage?
Before we get into providing a civil union relationship definition, let’s examine what ‘marriage’ really means. Sure, we all know that marriage is a commitment that couples make. People tend to get married when they fall in love with each other and want to solidify their relationship.
Another reason why people tend to get married is to make sure that their relationship is socially recognized, and also because it follows a certain social convention. Sometimes, people also get married for religious, cultural, traditional, and social purposes.
Couples also don’t simply wake up and decide to get married; a lot of sources talk about the five common stages all couples go through
It is in these last stages that people decide to get married.
An additional reason that people get married is to get the legal, social, and financial benefits. It’s usually during this decision that the topic of civil union vs. marriage comes up.
Civil partnership vs. marriage is most hotly debated when couples are only thinking of getting married for legal reasons, and not because they believe in the religious or spiritual essence of marriage.
Civil Unions are very similar to marriages, especially in the fact that it offers a way for couples to be legally registered and claim their rights. One of the biggest differences between marriage and civil union is that civil union couples don’t receive the same federal benefits of marriage.
Many lawyers provide a civil union relationship definition as “a legal relationship between two people that provides legal protections to the couple only at the state level”. Even though it sounds like a civil union is exactly the same as a marital union, there are actually many differences between civil partnership and marriage.
Civil union vs. marriage is a tricky debate. Lots of people have bad experiences with the institution of marriage.
Maybe their previous marriages didn’t end well, they no longer have religious faith in marital union, or, as a same-sex couple or an LGBTQ+ ally, they don’t wish to support an institution that caused so much pain for generations of gender-nonconforming individuals.
For one or all of these reasons and more, people may not wish to get married in the religious sense. So when considering marriage vs. civil union, they might be leaning more toward civil union. But before taking the next step, it is crucial to understand the similarities and differences between marriage and civil union.
There are many similarities between civil unions and marriages. There are some marriage rights that can be claimed by civil union marriages as well:
1. Spousal privilege
One of the biggest similarities of civil union vs. marriage are the spousal privileges and rights both of these provide. Some of the common spousal privileges include inheritance rights, bereavement rights, and employee benefits. We will go into more detail for each of these below:
Inheritance rights: Different states have different laws about spousal inheritance rights. But according to many law sources, spouses have the right to inherit their partner’s property, money, and other items.
If in their will they have specified other benefactors, then the spouses no longer have claim over it, but if no one is specified, then the spouse automatically inherits it. Both civil unions and marriages provide spouses with this right.
Bereavement rights: Legally, in both civil union and marriage cases, the state recognizes the spouses emotional distress in the loss of a partner and provides legal accommodations, including time off for mourning.
Employee benefits: in most workplaces, civil unions are recognized and are given the same rights as marriages. This way, domestic partnerships are able to claim insurance and other perks offered by their patner’s employer.
In the civil union vs. marriage debate, one unifying factor between the two is that they both offer couples the option of filing their taxes jointly. However, this civil union right can only be claimed in states where civil unions are recognized. This also doesn’t apply to federal taxes.
3. Property and estate planning rights
The law gives couples who are in a civil union the opportunity to buy property and plan their estates together. They offer joint ownership rights. This is just one other way civil unions and marriages are similar to each other.
Like in a marital relationship, civil union partnerships are recognized as being a family unit. So when couples in a civil union have children, they are immediately recognized as parents. This also adds to the tax rights where they are able to claim their child as a dependent.
They also have other parental rights like guardianship, but also once separated, they would have equal custody over their children, as well as capable of making decisions for them until they turn 18.
Similar to marriages, civil unions offer couples the right to not testify against each other in court. This is so that partners don’t have to feel conflicted, especially in a stressful situation.
Additionally, because civil unions are recognized as committed partnerships, the judicial system recognizes that some bias would be involved in the testimony.
5 differences between civil union and marriage
Check out the differences between civil unions and marriage:
1. Difference in eligibility for federal rights
Marriages are recognized as a legal union by the federal government. However, civil unions are not. Due to this, civil union partners don’t get to file their taxes jointly, or get any social security or immigration benefits, and many experts cite this as one of the biggest topics in any civil union vs. marriage debate.
2. Different ways of legally establishing a relationship
The most noticeable civil union vs. marriage difference is the way they are legally established. Marriage involves the exchange of vows and the supervision of a religious authority, like a priest or rabbi, or a government official., and the signing of a document.
Civil unions are established through signing a civil partnership document, and there is no religious or spiritual component involved. The documents are pretty similar to each other, but they are constructed and written differently.
3. Difference in the way relationships are legally terminated
While the way both civil union and marital relationships are ended in fundamentally similar processes, there are a few legal and procedural differences. Even the terms are different – marriage is ended by divorce, whereas civil unions are ended by dissolution.
Marriages are recognized by all states; for example, if you get married in, say, California, you are still recognized as a married couple in Pennsylvania. However, civil unions are subject to the specific laws of each state, and some states don’t recognize civil unions as legal partnerships.
5. Difference in veteran benefits
Surviving spouses of veterans are recognized when married and are therefore eligible to receive federal and state compensation. However, civil unions are not eligible to receive support. This is a very unfortunate difference in civil union vs. marriage.
Civil unions can be both advantageous and disadvantageous to couples. With research and talking to people who are involved in marital law, couples can come to a conclusion about which path to take.
The civil union vs. marriage question is a big and loaded one. People tend to engage in civil union if they have strong opinions, beliefs and feelings toward marriage. So thinking through your own stance on marriage and what is most important to you can help you decide.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.