As Texas residents may know, traditional marriages are fully protected legally and financially by state and federal laws. After the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, many same-sex couples now are guaranteed the same protection. Married couples are given legal and financial benefits by more than 1,000 laws, but few states recognize or provide benefits to domestic partnerships and civil unions of unmarried couples. In some cases, registered domestic partnerships and civil unions are protected in some states for such things as health insurance and unemployment, but not on the federal level. However, even when states recognize unmarried partnerships and unions, the couples do not have federal protections.
Although domestic partnerships and civil unions are not marriages, all states that offer them also allow same-sex marriages. Married couples, regardless of gender, are allowed federal benefits, but unmarried couples are not. Some states extend benefits to domestic partners and civil unions, but those benefits vary from state to state. A couple’s marital status affects income taxes, social security, retirement accounts, health care, property and debt, so couples considering legal unions may need to choose carefully between marriage and partnerships.
Only married couples can file joint federal income tax returns and receive Social Security survivor benefits. In addition, the ownership and right to survivorship of property are guaranteed for those in marriages, but unmarried couples may need a domestic partnership agreement to explicitly divide property. Married couples have financial responsibilities for each other during the marriage and possibly after divorce. However, unmarried couples may not be responsible for each other’s debts.
Relationships can involve many legal issues, and a lawyer might be able to help unmarried couples facing uncertain financial futures after a relationship has ended. For example, that lawyer could draw up a domestic partnership agreement that details ownership and the division of property.