Updated November 2017
Single, married, widowed, divorced, or in a domestic partnership — we know what these terms mean in our day to day social lives. But what about the wide-ranging legal implications of your current marital status? These classifications signify a lot more than just a romantic commitment to a spouse or life partner.
Although it’s not glamorous or particularly romantic, marital status really is a practical matter — and it’s a legal status regulated by the government. For example, you have to get a license to get married, your ceremony officiant generally must be licensed to perform the ceremony, and your local courthouse sends you your final marriage certificate which acts as legal proof of your marriage and proof of your new legal status. Divorce is also a legal process and is granted by the court. In some states, domestic partnerships are granted by state government too, and partners may be eligible for many of the same state rights and obligations as married couples (although not at the federal level).
What changes when you get married?
So what changes from a legal perspective when you get married? There’s a lot more involved than you may realize. Your marital status creates specific financial, healthcare, tax, and other shared opportunities and obligations. Here are some of the important ways a change in your marital status can affect your life (and the lives of your family members).
Tax benefits of marriage
When you get married, you get to file jointly or married separately. With a new spouse, your income is likely to increase, and it may place you in a new tax bracket. On the other hand, if you’re filing taxes after marriage, you might get a better deal as a married couple than if you were both single. When a marriage ends due to a divorce or a death, you’re back to filing as an individual, and you face the same possibility that your tax obligation may shift up or down. Read more about how marital status affects your taxes.
Financial benefits of marriage
Your credit score is not tied directly to your marital status, although your credit report will reflect any change of your legal name. However, if you take out credit jointly with your new spouse, it will appear on both of your credit reports. If the marriage later ends because of divorce, this debt isn’t wiped out — you entered into the debt as an individual too. Read more about how marital status affects credit card and loan applications.
Health and medical benefits of marriage
When your legal status is “married” you get the benefit of being able to qualify for coverage under your spouse’s employer-sponsored health care. You also get the right to visit your spouse in the hospital as his or her next of kin. When a marriage ends, these benefits also end, so it’s important to figure out an alternative method of health care as well as creating a Hospital Visitation Authorization so your unmarried partner or another trusted friend can visit you in the hospital. Read more about how marital status affects your health insurance and hospital visitation rights.
Student aid eligibility
If you’re a college student, anything that influences how your income is calculated will influence your eligibility for student loans and grants. If you get married, your household income grows too since your spouse’s income will be counted. However, you may be able to file as independent, and your parent’s income won’t be counted, which often means more financial aid for the student who can file as independent. Read more about how marital status affects student aid eligibility.
Government assistance benefits of marriage
Eligibility for government programs like as Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or HUD subsidized housing uses your household income or family income when they determine your eligibility. You can qualify for these programs when your income falls below their poverty line threshold. Getting married or the end of a marriage is likely to influence your eligibility. For example, if you marry someone with a higher income, you may lose coverage through these programs. On the other hand, if you become single after being married to someone who had a higher income, you might become eligible again. Read more about how marital status affects eligibility for government assistance.
Estate planning benefits of marriage
Your estate plan should be updated whenever your marital status changes. Spouses have extra rights when it comes to estate planning, because they usually become the primary heir, even when a Last Will is not present. They can also make certain important decisions, even in the absence of a Power of Attorney. Married couples also get access to special kinds of estate planning trusts, like the QTIP trust, for example. It’s also tax-free to leave your spouse assets and gifts. If you’re getting divorced or have lost a spouse, you’ll need to adjust your estate plan to compensate for the change. Read more about how marital status affects estate planning.
For more legal help with marriage-related issues, visit the Rocket Lawyer Marriage Legal Center.