It seems as though marriage, in many ways, is something for women to strive for. From a young age, we're inundated with imagery of weddings and bridal gowns, and are encouraged to find “the one.”
For many women, marriage is a rite of passage on the path to full-fledged adulthood. If you’re a guy, getting married is a sign of settling down – committing to a woman.
While marriage can be very practical and create a wonderful (legal) union, not everyone is so eager to walk down the aisle. What if you just don’t want to get hitched?
As a woman who has been with her partner for eight years, I’m always getting the question, “When will you two get married?” My answer: “Errr… never?”
Now, I’m a hopeless romantic. And no, I did not have a horrible childhood. Nor was I a product of a broken home. But marriage has never seemed that appealing or practical to me.
I’ve always thought that love doesn’t need to be confirmed by a legal union.
Not only that, but not getting married can save you some money, too. You can save money on wedding costs; you could avoid the marriage penalty (depending on your incomes); and it may help to keep things separate if one or both of you has student loans. When nearly one in two people end up divorcing, staying in “partnership” mode doesn’t seem so bad, financially speaking.
Financial Planning Tips for Unmarried Couples
However, as I’m learning, there are things you need to prepare for financially and logistically when you decide to say “no” to marriage (or any formal partnership agreement, like being domestic partners or common-law spouses).
1. Health Care
When you get married, you may be able to get your spouse on your employer’s health insurance plan or vice versa. If you don’t want to get legally married, then you’ll need to opt for your own healthcare. My partner and I are both in non-traditional employment situations, so this doesn’t really affect us, but it’s still an expense that we each have to tackle on our own.
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2. Power Over Medical Decisions
When you’re in love, you don’t want to imagine anything bad happening to your significant other. Unfortunately, things sometimes do happen.
And if you’re unmarried, you may have a tough time getting any legal power when it comes to medical decisions.
In order to protect each others’ health, you may want to set up an advanced directive for health care. Doing this lets you put someone in charge of your medical care and the decisions required if you're unable to make decisions yourself. This is an important part of keeping you protected as a couple – if this is not in place, the decision may be made by mom, dad, or another relative, and the long-term love could be left out of the picture.
3. Set Up a Will
If you don’t want to walk down the aisle, but still want your partner to have access to your assets or property should anything happen to you, it’s important to set up a will. A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes upon death.
You can create a living will that outlines your wishes and explicitly states that your partner can be the beneficiary of estate or property.
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4. You’ll Miss Out on Survivor Benefits
If you’re married and your spouse dies, you get access to Social Security benefits for survivors. “At present, there are about 5 million widows and widowers receiving monthly Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse's earnings record. And, for many of those survivors, particularly aged women, those benefits are keeping them out of poverty,” according to the Social Security Administration’s website.
That can be a useful cushion of cash if your spouse passes away. But if you’re unmarried, don’t expect to get any hookups from the government.
Financial Planning for Unmarried Couples: The Bottom Line
If you don’t want to get married, you don’t have to. In some ways, staying unmarried may make your finances easier and help you save for the future. But if you don’t want to get hitched, know how to protect yourself financially and otherwise. You may not be able to claim “half” of what's yours if you separate, but you may come out of it relatively unscathed. Either way, you can still protect yourself and live “happily ever after” without getting legally married.