Getting “Married” without a Marriage Certificate

When we were growing up, most of us bought into the romantic fantasy of a knight on horseback sweeping us off our feet and onto the altar. I sure did.

At 19, I walked down the aisle, convinced that I was partnering for life, but like almost half of us who married too young, my marriage ended in divorce.

As we get older we generally grow wiser, becoming more pragmatic and practical about our choice of a life partner. Of course, we still fall in love, but we do it differently the second (or third) time around. In a rapidly evolving trend, many older couples are now choosing to live together in a relationship that looks and feels like marriage, but quite often, doesn’t include a marriage license.

This new form of coupling is taking off in a big way for women of our generation. In the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the number of unmarried couples over 50 jumped from 1.2 million to 2.8 million. Recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics reveal that this group is the fastest growing segment of the population choosing not to marry.

A NY Times article, Welcoming Love at an Older Age, but Not Necessarily Marriage, observes that concerns about debt, taxes, benefits and cash flow are the primary factors causing older adults to commit to love, but not to marriage. From a purely financial POV, this decision makes good sense. Provisions in the tax code frequently cause married couples to payer higher taxes than if they were single, and marriage between higher income couples often triggers bigger tax hits. Widows under 60 who remarry have to give up any Social Security benefits and pensions they’ve inherited from their husbands too. 

By the time we reach 50, most of us have also accumulated homes, businesses or other significant assets, and worry about creating legal problems for our heirs by merging resource in a marriage. But if you do make the decision to form a romantic partnership, rather than a marriage, it’s still really important to make sure all your assets are properly legally titled to avoid creating even greater problems down the road.

At this point in our lives, particularly if we’ve had the experience of caring for own aging parents, medical and long-term care issues start to enter our consciousness as we partner again too. Married couples are responsible for each others medical debts, but couples who remain unmarried, avoid the risk of draining their partner’s resources in the face of costly medical expenses.

While all this emphasis on finances and protecting assets may sound cold, calculated and the antithesis of romantic partnering, it’s really not. One of the keys to making relationships work is expressing ourselves clearly and communicating exactly what we want and need, rather than assuming the other person can read our minds, and then getting angry when they can't. Talking about finances and being practical about “who owns what” early on in any relationship, can pave the way for better communication overall, actually increasing the chances of long-term intimacy and happiness. 

This new, open structured, long-term alternative to marriage seems be working out really well. “A study conducted by Susan L. Brown at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, found that older couples who live together have remarkably stable relationships and are more likely to remain that way too. Sounds good to me!

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Are you in a long-term partnership that doesn't include marriage?

What were your reasons for choosing this alternative?