Financial security for unmarried couples

Money is one of the biggest issues couples fight about. It's also one of the most important areas for clear communication. After all, money touches every aspect of our lives.

I've written before about the importance of having good financial communication with your spouse. It's doubly important to communicate well with your partner if you're not married. Many of the financial advantages married couples enjoy are available to unmarried partners — but they're not automatic. For unmarried partners, it takes careful planning and legal documentation to create the kind of benefits married couples get the moment they say, “I do.”

Money Without Matrimony

To get a sense of the challenges and opportunities facing unmarried couples, I turned to financial expert Debra Neiman. Neiman is a Certified Financial Planner and co-author of the book Money Without Matrimony, a primer for unmarried couples setting up house together. I also spoke with two other, more personal experts on unmarried partnership: my friends John and Sarah. John and Sarah are living together and raising their daughter living together as unmarried partners.

Note: I learned about Money Without Matrimony from J.D., who sings its praises highly. The book is a great resource for unmarried couples. Unfortunately, it's out of print, though Amazon has used copies for as little as fourteen cents!

According to Money Without Matrimony, there are three core groups of people who choose unmarried partnerships:

  • same-sex couples who can't legally marry
  • younger couples who don't feel ready for marriage or aren't interested in marrying
  • older couples who have financial disincentives to marry because of their existing benefits.

John and Sarah fall squarely into Neiman's middle camp: a couple in their mid-30s who enjoy their unmarried partnership and aren't interested in marriage, but do want to share a life together. They've been together four years, and have a daughter.

“We have no plans to get married in the future,” Sarah says. “We're happy being unmarried to each other. Right now I feel like the most likely reason for us to get married would be if we had no other way to achieve some critical benefit associated with marriage, like if we had to get married to get our daughter health insurance. But so far nothing like that has come up.”

Sarah says they manage their household finances through a joint account, but each maintain individual accounts. “I think we'd probably manage day-to-day expenses roughly the same if we were married to each other,” she says. They've just recently made the transition from graduate student income to a professional salary, so they're facing some new decisions about how to handle savings and long-term plans.

Five Keys to Financial Success

Regardless of why you're not married, or what stage of life you're at, Neiman says there are five things every unmarried couple must do to safeguard themselves and each other as they approach their financial life together:

  • Document. Put your wishes in writing. This means all the basic estate planning documents, which are doubly important for married couples. If you die without a will, or fall ill without a health care proxy, and you're married, your spouse has certain automatic legal rights to make decisions on your behalf and dispense with your stuff. Your unmarried partner, on the other hand, is legally a stranger to you. Without these documents, your loved one will have no rights to care for you or inherit from you. You'll want some additional documentation as well. Neiman says it's a good idea to write down your basic ground rules for how you'll share household expenses, and to document what you want to have happen if the relationship dissolves.”It's important to do this while you're in love,” Neiman says. I'd add that those kinds of informal process documents are a good plan for all couples — married or not.
  • Insure. Some federal protections don't apply to unmarried couples, such as social security benefits. That makes it vital to have adequate life insurance protecting each other in the event of a tragedy. “If these two people are relying on each other's income, they need to insure to protect themselves,” Neiman says. She encourages unmarried couples to carry enough term life insurance to replace some income streams, such as the social security benefits they don't qualify for.
  • Instruct. Instruct your trustees as to your wishes. If you are providing for each other in the event of something happening, make sure that you list your partner as beneficiary. Be sure you've done all the appropriate paperwork for this, since — as mentioned above — it won't happen automatically.
  • Ownership. Make sure that assets are owned properly. “This is where things get really sticky for unmarried couples,” Neiman said. Unlike married couples, unmarried couples cannot share property indiscriminately; property transfers between partners may be subject to gift taxes. On the other hand, unmarried couples do not have to share in each other's debts or faulty credit. Indeed, one reason couples sometimes choose not to marry is to avoid mingling one partner's pristine financial history with the other's spotty one.
  • Inform. Inform family members of your intentions or wishes. Neiman says this is especially important if you expect family members to be difficult about choices you've made. If your family doesn't approve of your relationship, they may resist your wishes to provide for your partner. Better to have your plans known ahead of time than to have them mount a surprise contest against your will after you're gone.

These steps are all, obviously, good ideas for any couple. The better you plan ahead of emergencies and the eventual end of your life, the smoother the process will be for your loved ones. They're essential for unmarried couples, though.

Neiman says not getting all the requisite legal documents in place is the top mistake unmarried couples make. Money Without Matrimony contains many troubling stories of couples whose failure to plan ahead caused catastrophe for one or both of them.

More Than Money

It's not just about the disposition of substantial assets. Neiman asks couples to think about what will happen to their most personal items. What will happen to your journals? Any art you've created? Your pets? If you're not married and you want your partner to have those things, you need to say so clearly in writing.

Once you have your documentation in place and have agreed on how to share your household expenses and long-term plans, keeping it running smoothly isn't that different than it is for married couples. It requires the same commitment to clear communication and responsible use of resources.

My friend Sarah cites getting to write their own agreements about money as one of the best things about having an unmarried partnership. “The other side of that coin is having to work out our own agreements, rather than letting the government make decisions for us,” she says.

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Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago

I’ll step out on the limb and say this (call me old fashioned)… If you’re not committed enough to each other to get married, then it is probably not a good idea to be worrying about finances together. I understand this is not the case for millions of people, but I still don’t think it is right. If you cannot commit to me enough to marry me, why would I worry about sharing my income and assets with you? That’s putting yourself in position for a potential disaster. Plenty of people will also argue that getting married is not necessarily… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

Just a gentle reminder that many people committed to each other enough to live together for decades are not allowed to marry in the U.S. In addition, gay couples take serious hits in their financial lives because of current tax policy.

I’d also recommend a book that sounds like it would complement Money without Matrimony–The Nolo Guide entitled Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples. It’s easy to understand and very thorough.

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

“Just a gentle reminder that many people committed to each other enough to live together for decades are not allowed to marry in the U.S.” Without going into too much detail, my religious beliefs are such that I do not support gay relationships. I don’t hate these folks, but I do not support them being married, or even being in relationships. As for elderly couples, I thinkt he same rules apply as with younf people. IF you love the person, marry them. But if not, you shouldn’t get all the benefits of marriage without the commitment (i.e. living together, sexual… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

I don’t mean to disrespect anyone’s religious beliefs. But our constitution states that no one religious belief is supposed to be supported over another. It’s called the Establishment Clause. So if some people of faith believe gay people should be allowed to marry (which is the case) and other people of faith believe homosexuality is a sin (also true), the burden for the government is to decide if there is an overwhelming state interest in disallowing or allowing gay couples to marry. Choosing government policy on the basis of the religious beliefs of one group would be unfair to everyone… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

Pamela said what I wanted to say without calling you things that reflect on your prejudices and bigotry. Bravo Pamela! It’s one thing to claim you don’t believe gays should be allowed to marry, but they can’t even get in a relationship in your eyes? Drawing comparisons to people 60 years ago regarding interracial marriages is apt here. Egads. On topic, good article. I don’t plan to live with anyone until I’m engaged, old fashioned fool that I am, so it’s sort of moot. But many of my friends are “living in sin” and need a book like this.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Great comments, Pamela!

GY
GY
9 years ago

Thankfully I refreshed the page and calmed down a little bit allowing me to see that Pamela already wrote what I would have written; however, like Adam P said, in a much more diplomatic fashion. Please remember that correlation is not causation. Just because someone can’t stick to a diet, exercise plan, or budget doesn’t mean they can’t make life long commitments to someone. That’s like using this study (http://i.imgur.com/kpb5A.png) to imply that people who are more religious have on average: -Lower IQs, -Kill more, -Steal more, -Divorce more… Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes) give to God what… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
9 years ago

“Without going into too much detail, my religious beliefs are such that I do not support gay relationships. I don’t hate these folks, but I do not support them being married, or even being in relationships” If your religion doesn’t preach love or acceptance than I suggest you find a new religion. Using religion as an excuse to discriminate against or devalue a private relationship is beyond ignorant. You may choose to hide behind these “religious” beliefs but please don’t patronize us by saying you don’t hate gays but you don’t support them being in relationships. I bet you also… Read more »

Roberta
Roberta
9 years ago

Just another Thank You! to Pamela for more diplomatically writing what I was going to say.

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago

Ditto Pamela et al.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

Bravo, Pamela! Bravo!

Erica
Erica
9 years ago

@Bogey,

It’s clear from your comments that you assume being gay is a choice (comparing it to smoking, children misbehaving, etc.).

Which begs the question, at what point in your life did you decide to be straight?

Mom of five
Mom of five
9 years ago

I do think of the three cited categories of unmarried couples, one stands out as being very different. The same sex couple and the elder couple could very well be committed for life, just not legally so. The other, younger couple, “not ready to marry” in my mind would do best to leave their finances as separate as possible.

LJ
LJ
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

There are people who are philosophically against marriage. I personally don’t care to be someone’s wife and I have zero desire to whelp out five children as you have. Your choices make you happy and give you self-respect, and my decision to maintain independence while living in a committed relationship does the same for me. There’s room enough for all of us here.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

Call me rational, but why would I want to get into an unwritten contract that might change if we moved to a different state, and which has nothing at all to do with my emotional love and commitment for my partner? I’m in exactly the situation of the couple in the article – we’ve been happily unmarried for 11 years, now, and having to negotiate and talk about money instead of just taking blindly the package that comes with marriage has been really good for our relationship. We are thinking about getting married now, for tax reasons – I am… Read more »

TeresaA
TeresaA
9 years ago

Bogey: “To most people, getting a divorce is just like breaking up in highschool…” I agree with you, ideally, getting married SHOULD be a life commitment. But as you pointed out, you and I both know that in most cases this is no longer respected. We have become what I call a ‘disposable’ society. If it no longer works, toss it aside and get a new one. No one seems to understand the meaning of commitment anymore, and because of this, the concept of marriage has been cheapened. All that said, my ‘husband’ and I have been together for 25… Read more »

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago
Reply to  TeresaA

Just out of curiosity, did you all make a conscious decision to not get married, or was it one of those things that just never happened? you said: “We have become what I call a ‘disposable’ society. If it no longer works, toss it aside and get a new one. No one seems to understand the meaning of commitment anymore, and because of this, the concept of marriage has been cheapened.” I agree, that does seem to be the case. But I choose to try and do something about it instead of just accepting it like most people do. Mostly… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Bogey,
I am a lesbian and church going Christian (Episcopalian). You just went to the top of my prayer list.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

HA! Love it. 🙂

MDAccount
MDAccount
9 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

Yay for our side! I’m an Episcopal priest who was honored to conduct a wedding service at the church for two women who A) have two kids, B) teach Sunday school, C) serve on the church board, D) mentor confirmation candidates, E) help run our casserole brigade and F) have been together 14 years. How anyone could see these two pillars of society and the church as a threat is absolutely beyond me. And how does blocking their marriage, and making it harder for them to legally protect and care for their children and themselves help society or the state… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  MDAccount

How wonderful. I love the Episcopal church.

Brigitte
Brigitte
9 years ago

I choose not to get married for two reasons:

1) If gay people can’t legally get married, I won’t either (that’s a synopsis, it’s decidedly more complex than that); related to:

2) I sincerely believe that marriage is a spiritual contract, not a legal one–and government needs to stay out of it. Which would solve issue #1.

My commitment to my partner isn’t at stake here.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Brigitte

Thank you! This is the reply I would have written to TylerK, if there was a reply space under his reply to me.

T
T
9 years ago

“If you’re not committed enough to each other to get married, then it is probably not a good idea to be worrying about finances together. ”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

I’m a follower of Jesus, too, and I fully support gay rights (including marriage).
Two of the three pastors at my church are gay. They follow Jesus, too.
Perhaps Bogey just strayed off the path?
Also: If I were to get married again it would have to be for something really romantic, like health insurance.

Jan
Jan
9 years ago

In ten states by setting up all of these provisions- you are married in common law. IF fear of divorce is a problem- then common law is the way to go- for there is no divorce. You simply declare common law and these types of situations are unnecessary.

Sara A.
Sara A.
9 years ago
Reply to  Jan

Actually this is not true. My aunt had to have a divorce from a common law marriage.

Also, in Texas at least, you can set up all this documentation and it has nothing to do with common law marriage. I’m not familiar with other states, but in Texas one of the biggest criteria is representing yourself as husband and wife.

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  Jan

My cousin had to get divorced from a Common Law marriage – Kansas.

Annemarie
Annemarie
9 years ago

Great piece.

I wonder if adoption can be used, particularly with same-sex couples? As in, one partner adopts the other, thereby eliminating some but not all of the complications.

Meg
Meg
9 years ago

This is good information, especially for the large number of Americans who are not able to legally marry the partner of their choice. One question though, why did your sentence saying that money is one of the biggest issues couples fight about link to an article about how money is actually not the real culprit in most divorces? Weston is saying that yes, people fight about money, but as a stand in for their deeper problems.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

It seems to me that if you’re doing all of this and you *could* get married, that you’re doing a whole lot of work to reinvent the wheel. Why build up what is effectively a marriage one expensive ($300/hour attorney fee) piece at a time when you could just get married and get all this for free? If what you want isn’t marriage, then why would you go through all of this effort to mimic it?

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

Have to agree with Tyler here. If you’re able to get married and have been living together long enough to start changing your wills and sharing accounts etc.; why not just get a quick marriage licence and not bother telling anyone that you did it. Then you get all the benefits for one low cost and if you act like nothings changed, who will know?

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

Some of us have moral beliefs in freedom and equality, but also I have seen enough couples get married in one state and divorced in another that I am really, really leery of the entire family court system.

You wouldn’t get into any other kind of legal arrangement by “whatever law is enforced in this state” – you make specific contracts for leases, loans. Marriage and employment are basically the only deals where you figure out what the rules are in court after the fact.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

I don’t see what believing in equality has to do with it. I specifically was talking about people who *could* get married.

But you *always* enter into any legal contract based on the laws of the place in which the contract is executed. Do you think all real estate contracts are identical regardless of location? What happens if you move to France, is your specific contract for a lease or loan that you drafted in Illinois valid there? Maybe. I would guess there’s a good chance it’s not.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

As referenced above, many loving stable couples are legally barred from marrying.

Another reason, particularly for older couples, is when one party wants to continue receiving benefits from a former spouse that would be lost upon remarriage. (Many types of survivors benefits are lost upon remarriage.) Is that ethical, I can’t say, but it is rational in that the cost is usually far greater than $300.

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

Tyler already said he was only referring to couples who CAN marry but choose not to. If that is not clear, I think he means his comments only refer to straight couples who don’t marry. And I have to agree. I don’t really see the point in avoiding getting married if you can. Just go to a courthouse and have the judge sign the certificate. That’s a lot less expensive than getting lots of contracts.

aproustian
aproustian
9 years ago
Reply to  Suzanne

I am straight and could get married, but won’t, because I believe in equality. It’s a stand that I want to take, and isn’t so simple as “you can so you should, even though those other people can’t”.

Jenny
Jenny
9 years ago

For unmarried couples who could legally get married at some point (i.e., hetero couples who are living together), be sure to also have an exit strategy in place IN WRITING before moving in together. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Make sure that if the other person suddenly decides to leave you/kick you out, that there is money set aside for moving expenses, establishment of a new househould, and that there is a signed agreement as to who retains ownership of what joint purchases. Otherwise, you could find yourself homeless, with all the funds in the joint account mysteriously… Read more »

Pat S.
Pat S.
9 years ago

I don’t think this article was intended to be a topic of moral debate, but rather a guide for people who may be somewhat less traditional. I enjoy anything that makes me look at finance and life from a different perspective, especially when it’s counter to my own.

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago

Jonathan said: “If your religion doesn’t preach love or acceptance than I suggest you find a new religion. Using religion as an excuse to discriminate against or devalue a private relationship is beyond ignorant. You may choose to hide behind these “religious” beliefs but please don’t patronize us by saying you don’t hate gays but you don’t support them being in relationships. I bet you also use this line … I don’t hate gays, I have gay friends. Gays being in relationships or being married or being parents has absolutely nothing to do with you or with your religion. So… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

No, you’re right, you’re perfectly allowed to your opinion and to state them and not be ‘attacked’ but asked to debate them. This isn’t the place for it tho, poor JD opened a can of worms I’m sure he doesn’t want. What Pamela wrote: “So if some people of faith believe gay people should be allowed to marry (which is the case) and other people of faith believe homosexuality is a sin (also true), the burden for the government is to decide if there is an overwhelming state interest in disallowing or allowing gay couples to marry.” Is the crux… Read more »

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

Adam – The funny thing is, I agree with you. But it is likely no one will listen, because they are too wrapped up in the fact that I am a “bigot”. Consider this – I’d actually have no problem with gay marriage being legal in all 50 states. It really won’t change anything, and it won’t harm me. If people want to be in a same sex relationship with one another, that really is their right as a free citizen of the United States. BUT – on the other hand, if it were to be legalized, I would still… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

That makes perfect sense to me. Thank you for your reply, my apologies for any rudeness in my previous posting. I still don’t see the need for some people to get hostile in opposing laws that don’t impact you but give other people (minorities) freedoms that you (the majority) already enjoy–I’m glad you wouldn’t be one of those people. Smoking I am against because I breath second hand smoke that I hate every time I am near a smoker. It can be detrimnetal to my health and causes me to stink. But gay marriage, if I don’t like one or… Read more »

Ace
Ace
9 years ago

Bravo, bogey. I’m all for live and let live, but I’m also for think and let think. People for the former often don’t respect the latter.

What people often forget is that in a Democracy, we are all entitled to our own opinions (it’s called voting your conscience), and no one has to justify his opinion to the satisfaction of anyone else.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

We’re not doing the same thing you are, because we’re not the ones legislating our moral views. Why should this preference for married heterosexual couples be written into the tax codes (thank you, “imputed income” taxes because of DOMA) just because some religious people think everyone should be married? Why should we be paying for all these specific legal services that married couples get for free? Why is there a tax break for a spouse inheriting a 401k? Because people like you have managed to use legal and financial means to enforce your views of how other people should live,… Read more »

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

Please show me where I said anything about legislating away people’s rights?

I just said I don’t agree with it. Period.

Please read more carefully, and try to actually understand what I am saying.

I DON”T AGREE WITH SOME THINGS…

…is different than:

I THINK IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

Sorry to assume, because you jumped onto an article for unmarried couples telling them to just get married, that you were one of the people who voted for DOMA. I still do not understand why there always has to be a “traditional marriage” viewpoint posted right away on any article about *unmarried couples *separate checking accounts *divorce It’s hard not to lump all of you together in my mind because there is ALWAYS a comment like this on any nontraditional relationshop article. Check out the huge argument on the reader’s story about her divorce. Sorry to contribute to the hostilities.… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

When I was editing this, I knew it might cause some debate among readers. You all know I try to keep religion and politics out of Get Rich Slowly, but for some this topic begs certain questions regarding morality. All I ask is that you keep things civil and that you don’t resort to personal attacks. So far, so good, I think. Remember: It’s okay to have a discussion, but be nice and be reasonable. This isn’t the USA Today website. I will delete personal attacks.

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

On Jonathan’s earlier advice, I just got finished taking my religious beliefs and shoving them you know where…

It sure did hurt.

Does that count as a personal attack?

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

Sorry. Missed that. I’ve edited out his last two paragraphs.

Again, folks, you can have a debate without resorting to personal attacks. Please keep things civil.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

It is really hard to not have personal attacks when the conversation started with “If you’re not committed enough to each other to get married…”

How is that not a personal attack on people who either choose not to get married or aren’t legally allowed to marry? I’m very committed to my partner.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I understand, Rosa. And Kris and I hear similar things when people find out we keep separate finances. I try not to view them as personal attacks, though, especially when phrased like that particular quote. In this case, Bogey is making an assumption — and an erroneous one. His assumption is that only committed people get married, or that all committed people get married, or that all married people are committed to each other. You and I both know this is a faulty assumption. I try not to view it as a personal attack, but faulty reasoning. It’s a problem… Read more »

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

All I was trying to say is that if there is some underlying reason why you have not considered marrying the person, then take a moment to pause and consider if getting financial matters intertwined is really a wise idea. End of story. But yea, I’m way too young to know anything about anything. For the record, I never called anyone out for having a certain belief. I said I disageed with the belief. Looks like the others here were the ones not mature enough to understand that I can have opinions and beliefs to, that may differ from their… Read more »

Brenton
Brenton
9 years ago

LOL @ taking 1 post to turn into a moral debate about marriage and gays. I called that one about 1/3rd of the way into the article.

I understand the same sex couples and the older couples ideas behind not getting married. Like someone else pointed out, its hard to see the point of view of John and Sarah. Seems like just getting married down at the local courthouse would be much easier than drawing up all this legal documentation.

Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
9 years ago

This is an interesting article, and a topic you dont see often enough. My girlfriend will most likely be moving into my house before we are married, so it’s interesting to consider teh financial situation prior to combining our finances.

AC
AC
9 years ago

I think keeping separate living spaces, accounts, and assets is ideal for an unmarried couple that can otherwise get married. Life insurance coverage? Documenting? Bah! It is not so much to punish the person not wanting martrimony as much as it prevents a significant loss wealth when the other person decides they do want to get married…to someone else.

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago

I have a question about Social Security and other federal benefits. Can you get the same protections with contracts and other means that you get from getting married? If one member of a married couple dies, the other gets some kind of payment based on their spouse’s benefit. I doubt contracts between partners would allow you to collect the other’s Social Security.

I have the same question about inheritance taxes. I don’t think there are taxes on an inheritance between spouses up to a certain $ amount. Can this benefit be recreated with contracts and joint ownership?

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Suzanne

Social security – no.

Inheritance – no, you would pay full estate taxes on half of joint accounts and have the full inheritance tax on nonjoint things (like 401k accounts).

There are a lot of tax benefits of marriage.

Brenton
Brenton
9 years ago
Reply to  Sierra Black

This is why I dont understand the mindset of your friends. Dont get me wrong, I have no moral or ethical beef with them, but a mid 30s couple with children should just get married and stop being stubborn. =)

Ace
Ace
9 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

Bigot!!!

(kidding)

Kim
Kim
9 years ago

For me, I was married for 10 years. My ex-husband had two affairs while we were married (the second one was the final straw and we got divorced). He was also very controlling of me. I would have gotten out of the marriage years earlier because of his control issues, but I made a vow and wanted to honor the vow. Yes, there’s the whole till death do us part, but it takes two to keep the marriage together. There’s only so much that one person can do for a marriage. I am now scared to death about getting married… Read more »

AC
AC
9 years ago
Reply to  Kim

you moved in together and then talked about bills?

csdx
csdx
9 years ago
Reply to  AC

Couples moving in together don’t seem to be that big a deal to me, but I admit I’m probably at a very different stage in life (college/just out of it) when people are still more fluid in their living arrangements. But I see a roommate like situation as easily possible in the original case, where your stuff is co-located, but your finances are still largely separate (such as cell phones, investments, cars, etc). You don’t need to know much more than the basics like with any other roommate. Utilities, splitting the rent, and maybe groceries. As long as you make… Read more »

Kim
Kim
9 years ago
Reply to  AC

We discussed at a super high level who would pay what bills – predominately utilities. Didn’t discuss misc household stuff (target/wal-mart stuff) or food (who pays groceries and when). I make more than he does but then it’s a guy vs. girl thing. So we’re trying to negotiate that now. It’s really the details that we haven’t worked out but those details add up to be big expenses in the budget.

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Now that I have come out as gay and Christian, it seems apt for me to share my experiences as a person unable to marry who has been in two long term committed relationships. Sierra’s article did not address two important points: cost and health care issues. It costs approximately $5,000 for a gay couple in California to get all of the legal protections in place even with domestic partnership laws that a simple trip to the courthouse provides heterosexual couples able to marry. The costs grow exponentially when there are children involved. I cannot urge John and Sarah more… Read more »

Melanie
Melanie
9 years ago

Nothing against this article, but I’d love to see J.D.’s next article be about the impending furlough of over 800,000 employees. We could sure use some of your guidance right about now!! thanks

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago
Reply to  Melanie

Oof. That’s a tough one! That’s the reason we do all of the smart things with personal finance — like build an emergency fund and try to have a couple of extra small income streams coming in. But even the best preparations sometimes aren’t enough. And sometimes, you’re not able to get prepared in time. I don’t know much about the furlough situation (because I consciously avoid the news), but I can ask Kris. She’ll know. And as a state employee, she’s been taking mandated furlough days for the past year or two. (Not to mention that her wages are… Read more »

Meg
Meg
9 years ago
Reply to  Melanie

Agreed! It sure looks like we’re heading for some unpaid time off.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Meg

We state employees endorse this!

All I’ve got is: have a big emergency fund and get used to living on less.

Brenton
Brenton
9 years ago
Reply to  Melanie

As a former government employee, my advice to anyone in this situation is simple. Find a new job. You can enjoy better pay and less stress doing the exact same job, in most cases.

If you are a teacher or other similar job then I dont know what to say other than you have my sympathy.

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

Personally, I know several long-term, committed, cohabiting gay couples who own property together and in some cases have kids together. They all thought that the $3K – $5K in legal fees, necessary to set up their wills, powers, trusts etc., was well-spent. Also personally, I was involved in a long unmarried cohabitation that ended badly. In that case it cost me a significant amount of money to get the monkey off my back, but I was glad that I did *not* have a bunch of contracts floating around that I needed to track down and nullify. There were no kids,… Read more »

Brigitte
Brigitte
9 years ago

This is VERY helpful, and I appreciate the book recommendations I saw while scanning the comments. My partner and I have discussed not getting legally married for a number of reasons, who good financial planning is key.

jackowick
jackowick
9 years ago

I don’t believe people need a piece of paper or ring or children to “show/prove” their level of commitment to any partner. But unfortunately, we have to legally cover these commitments when we want to extend these benefits (Ever notice that no one asks why Married Couples in 2011 should be entitled automatically to so much financial windfall & liability but we’re quick to debate extending this to same sex couples?) This isn’t 1850 or 1950 when you had a husband earning the bulk of the income to support a part-time or non-working wife. Sometimes we need to step back… Read more »

Debra Neiman, CFP
Debra Neiman, CFP
9 years ago
Since most of the case studies in the book were from actual client scenarios, I appreciate those who posted their own stories.

Unfortunately, there is no way to replicate the economic side of marriage through legal contracts because certain benefits can’t be created synthetically, including: receiving Social Security survivor benefits, avoiding inheritance/estate taxes, and the ability to give each other an unlimited amount of assets throughout one’s lifetime (the unlimited marital deduction). However, with proper planning one may be able to provide for him/herself and partner.

misspoboy
misspoboy
9 years ago

What’s all the fuss? I must admit the comments are funny and some are genuinely insightful. What’s wrong with just getting married, moving in together as husband and wife and staying married while sharing in the fullness of life financially, spiritually, and morally? It’s a great way to procreate and raise children which two of the categories mentioned in write-up are unable to do.

Tara C
Tara C
9 years ago

As someone who has been living with her opposite sex partner for 10 years, I appreciate you focusing on this topic. We are both divorced with very unpleasant memories of going through the legal and financial process of divorce at a time when we were in a lot of emotional pain, and have no interest in doing that again. We went to a lawyer and had all the necessary paperwork drawn up, it only cost $2000, well worth the expense. We keep all our finances and property separate and we like it that way. Every day we are together is… Read more »

pliglee
pliglee
9 years ago

Don’t forget that some people live together and delay getting married because they want to be able to have their dream wedding. My mother knew a very nice couple who were together for at least 10 years before finally getting married. They wanted a beautiful wedding in Hawaii so they had a lot of saving to do (we’re all from the Midwest). They also wanted to start their own company together, which they did. Well, they had their dream wedding without the debt and with family and a few very close friends (my mother included) by their sides. I saw… Read more »

Bella
Bella
9 years ago

This is probably going to open a whole new can of worms, but as well as there are financial benefits to getting married, there are definetely tax disincentives to getting married. For everyone who thinks that they got rid of the ‘marriage tax’ our tax burden went UP significantly when we got married. So I’m glad that I have benefits from social security that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise – since I’m now paying more. That said, I do think that gay couples who chose to live together as married couples should be allowed to create the same LEGAL bond… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Bella

The marriage tax penalty happens when both parties make about the same amount. The marriage tax benefit happens when one outearns the other.

Penny
Penny
9 years ago

“Indeed, one reason couples sometimes choose not to marry is to avoid mingling one partner’s pristine financial history with the other’s spotty one.” This statement is very confusing to me. To my understanding, when two people get married their credit reports are not merged. It will only be affected if they both intentionally decide to co-sign each other’s previously established cards, or pursue new joint debts together. Getting married does not automatically tarnish each other’s financial histories. In regards to responsibility for your spouse’s debts accrued in his/her name only, that seems to depend on state laws, i.e. if you… Read more »

Ru
Ru
9 years ago

I don’t understand hetrosexual couples who live together forever and have kids but don’t get married. Marriage is a contract that protects you, your assets and your children in the event that something happens to the other person. I have nothing against people co-habiting (been there, done that), but I do think that if you’re going to have kids together, then you should get married. Marriage, to me, is the definitive point where you stand up and go “yep, staying with you forever” Oh, and I’m not Christian (I’m Gaian), but my parents have been married for 30 years, so… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I have a couple of hetero friends who live together without being married. One of them went through a painful marriage and successive divorce and remains allergic to the institution. They did file for domestic partnership with the guy’s employer though, which has provided some benefits for them without the accompanying terror. Having said, that, in the most loose, biological and psychological terms, any couple who nests together is already in a “marriage relationship” regardless of law of paperwork. I lived with my wife for 18 months before we got legally married– nothing was different the day after we went… Read more »

jackie
jackie
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

“I don’t understand hetrosexual couples who live together forever and have kids but don’t get married. … Marriage, to me, is the definitive point where you stand up and go “yep, staying with you forever” I think you answered your own question. Many people are not comfortable with “Forever” and are not willing to stand before the government and their communities and make that pledge. That does not mean that they don’t take marriage seriously. They probably take marriage more seriously that all the proponents of early marriage. I don’t understand all these comments (not just the one I’m replying… Read more »

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago

Lovely article – it’s always nice to see people addressing non-traditional issues. I would love to see reform in our laws and tax codes – everybody is single. Everybody can designate 1 other person (or children) to receive things like social security survivorship benefits or inheritance tax reductions. I think “marriages” should only be things people have in their own religious institutions or spiritual ceremonies – that if the government produces a license at all, that it be a “domestic partnership” license that applies for all people in the US regardless of sexuality. And really, so long as everyone can… Read more »

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

Wow, that’s one of those markets I wouldn’t have thought of by myself, but makes a lot of sense.

Since the long term unmarried couple is becoming more and more common, it makes sense that advice like this should be more widespread as well.

Thanks!

Ely
Ely
9 years ago

Whether or not a particular couple CAN or SHOULD get married, the fact is that there are many unmarried couples out there, and this book is an awesome and much-needed resource for them. Thank you for posting this, in spite of the inevitable can of worms.

Just because something works for you, doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

csdx
csdx
9 years ago

I think there are actually more than those three categories mentioned. But I suppose they tend to be much smaller. A 4th category I know among my social circle are people who believe in practicing polyamory (different than polygamy), or open relationships. For them they’ve decided that they can have more than one deep and meaningful relationship at a time (as a note they tend to call the rest of us serial monogamists, because we have had multiple partners too, just not at the same time). So given that you can’t legally be married to more than one person at… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Sadly, Money without Matrimony is out of print which brings up an important point about most unmarried, co-habiting couples of whatever ilk — they rarely do all that they need to do legally to protect themselves and their partner. My informal survey of my office and its many co-habitating couples indicates that most haven’t bothered with the protections available to them. Scarier still, so many couples, married and un, with children who wouldn’t dream of letting their children ride a bike without a helmet, for example, fail to have a will, custodial arrangements in case or death or life insurance.

KM
KM
9 years ago

Thanks, JD for the article, which is very useful for the large number of us who are partnered (or planning such) but who do not plan to marry. For people like me, there’s little financial reason to get married, and a lot of reasons NOT to get married. I was married. My ex husband left me with 2 kids. I’m middle aged, have a career, I have no problem supporting myself & my kids on my own. Since the divorce, I’ve been saving for my retirement and their college educations. I believe that as a Christian, my first duty is… Read more »

rrr
rrr
9 years ago

A medical power of attorney/health care proxy is a good idea for singles, too. And possibly a financial power of attorney as well. Since I’m single with no dependants, I’m not so concerned about my assets after death, but I was concerned about who would be making the decisions and taking care of my finances if I became temporarily incapacitated.

K. W.
K. W.
9 years ago

As always, I appreciate the reasonableness of discourse in the comments on this site (well enforced!)

In response to many of the comments above – this just reinforces to me the need for the government to get OUT of the marriage business, period. Everyone – gay or straight – should be entitled to a legal union with the same protections for all. Let churches give out marriage certificates, or not, according to their own beliefs.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  K. W.

Hell no. You got it backwards. Civil marriage (and divorce) was a huge step forward for civilization. I don’t want to go back to the Middle Ages. Just look at Israel where there is no civil marriage– woman are often trapped by men who don’t want to concede a divorce because the Chief Rabbinate controls marriage– a really backwards policy for those who are not Orthodox. The religious control of marriage also forces many Israelis to go to Cyprus (close) or elsewhere abroad in order to marry. I want legal protections for my family without any religious intervention. I also… Read more »

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I agree with K.W., so long as the same benefits can be had without marriage I don’t see why the government has to be a marriage licensor. However, I hadn’t thought of our point El Nerdo – good one. You are totlaly correct that some religions are stricter than others when it comes to dissolution of a union.

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
9 years ago

JD, I’m surprised you didn’t remove all the comments that, in response to this post about finances for unmarried couples, basically said “there shouldn’t be any unmarried couples”. Those comments are off-topic and distract from what should be a very useful discussion to many people. Unmarried couples do exist, and thus they need financial advice. People who want to deny the existence or unmarried couples, and people who want to try to force unmarried to stop existing by trying to shame them or legislate them out of existence, shouldn’t be given any voice in this discussion. What if you posted… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Karen in MN

Why stoop to censorship when you can school ’em.

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