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Marriage Compared to Civil Unions

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What Is Marriage?

Marriage is a legal status that is given to a couple by a state government. Regardless of where the marriage is issued, and subject to a few exceptions, it should be recognized by every state and nation around the world. Marriage is desirable because it has several unique rights, protections, and obligations at both the state and federal level for both spouses. Marriage for same-sex couples became legal in 2015, meaning that it is now an option for most couples.

What Is a Civil Union?

A civil union is a legal status that provides many of the same protections as marriage does to couples. However, these protections are only available at the state level. Federal protections, such as tax breaks and social security benefits, are unavailable to the civilly united. Civil unions are currently only available in Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Colorado. They are also recognized in Vermont.

What Is Domestic Partnership?

A domestic partnership is another legal status that gives some of the rights of marriage. Many states have made domestic partnerships available to certain groups of people. Usually, domestic partnerships allow couples to enjoy a list of rights and responsibilities that are limited compared to those granted to couples in a marriage.

What Are the Differences between Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships?

There are significant differences between the benefits and responsibilities of marriage and civil unions or domestic partnerships. People who are married usually enjoy more benefits than those in alternative arrangements, including:

  • Legal recognition of the relationship in other states
  • The ability to divorce in their state of residence, regardless of where married
  • Tax benefits available to married couples only
  • Immigration benefits when petitioning for a non-citizen spouse
  • Federal benefits, such as social security, medical, and life insurance

What Are Other Ways to Gain Some of Benefits of Marriage?

There are several options for increasing the number of benefits that are available to couples who cannot (or do not wish) to marry, enter into a civil union, or become domestic partners. These include:

  • Second parent adoption of your children
  • Creating durable or medical power of attorney in your partner
  • Crafting a durable and specific will
  • Planning your estate carefully

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you are choosing between marriage and another alternative available in your state, like domestic partnership or a civil union, you may wish to consult a family law lawyer. An attorney can explain all your options and help you understand what types of legal strategies are right for you and your family.

Photo of page author Alexis Watts

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 02-28-2018 03:31 AM PST

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