The Benefits Of Marriage
Marriage is one of the oldest cultural institutions humans have and represents a foundational touchstone of human society. As such, the federal government and state governments have a vested interest in promoting marriage and do so by conferring legal benefits to married couples.
Compared to many other states, California family law offers several benefits to married couples and couples in a domestic partnership, ranging from property inheritance to taxation issues. With that in mind, the editing team at City Hall Wedding put together a list of nine legal benefits of marriage in California.
Tax filing and deductions
Some of the biggest legal benefits of marriage in California relate to taxation. Married couples can file taxes jointly and can take up to two standard deductions from their income. This can provide a significant tax reduction if one spouse works and the other stays at home. However, combining incomes can make couples jump into higher tax brackets.
Married couples can also transfer an unlimited amount of assets to one another tax-free. That means you can transfer marital assets to your spouse without incurring an estate or gift tax.
Married couples can also benefit from social security expansion. If you qualify for social security benefits, your spouse can also access those benefits, even if they individually do not qualify. Spouses can also receive military, pension, and veterans benefits through marriage.
In California, married individuals are eligible for supplemental social security income if they have less than $3,000 in personal assets instead of the $2,000 limit for non-married individuals.
In California, marriage works under common property laws, meaning that spouses equally own future assets and income. For example, if one spouse purchased a car, the law would consider that car to be common property. Common property laws make it easy for a surviving spouse to receive assets after their spouse dies.
However, common property laws also mean that spouses can acquire each other’s debts. For example, if you refinance a mortgage after getting married, you and your spouse share the new debt.
Married couples also get retirement benefits. For example, a surviving spouse can roll over their deceased partner’s IRA tax-free. You can also contribute to a spousal IRA, a retirement vehicle that allows an employed spouse to save for their unemployed spouse. However, married couples must file a joint tax return to get these retirement benefits.
Generally speaking, married individuals can add a spouse to their health insurance plan if the spouse does not have health insurance. The 2004 California Insurance Equality Act (CIEA) requires all health insurers to extend coverage to the spouses and domestic partners of policyholders.
Note that the CIEA does not apply to self-insured plans. The 2012 Insurance Nondiscrimination Act closed loopholes in the CIEA and requires all non-California businesses to offer marital coverage to policyholders in California.
California law also allows married citizens to petition for a green card for their non-citizen spouse. Processing times for a U.S.-citizen petitioner average 11-14 months compared to 16-months for non-citizen petitioners. Additionally, married residents will be able to apply for full citizenship after only three years, compared to five years for non-married residents.
In addition to health insurance coverage, married couples in California receive several benefits from employers. Specifically, spouses can take family leave to care for their partner if sick, and surviving spouses can collect wages and pension benefits from deceased spouses. Spouses can also take a leave of bereavement if their partner dies.
Medical & death
California spouses also receive special visitation rights while their partner is in the hospital. Spouses can also make medical decisions for their partners if they are incapacitated and unable to specify their desired treatment.
Moreover, your spouse will be able to make after-death decisions about examination, procedures, burial, and final arrangements.
Other legal benefits
In California, if your spouse dies in an accident due to another’s negligence, you can sue that third party for wrongful death. Similarly, you can be the recipient of legal damages and recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime. Lastly, spouses get certain legal immunities and special visitation rights in prison.
Marriage vs Domestic Partnership
As of 2019, all Californians gained eligibility to either marry or enter a domestic partnership. Domestic partnerships originally served as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples until the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage protections to all non-heterosexual couples in 2015. However, Californians can still apply for domestic partnerships.
Domestic partnerships confer several of the same legal benefits of marriage in California, including health insurance coverage, hospital/jail visitation rights, sick leave, conservatorship rights, property provisions, and the right to sue for wrongful death. Your domestic partner can also adopt your child from a previous marriage, provided the original parent gives up their rights as a parent.
However, domestic partnerships have some important limitations. First, domestic partners cannot transfer assets to one another tax-free, and some insurance policies do not recognize partnerships as they do marriage. Most importantly, domestic partners must file taxes separately, so they cannot receive tax benefits from filing jointly.
Before California legally recognizes a marriage or domestic partnership, you have to get a marriage certificate. Read our guide to getting married if you want to learn more about the process of applying for a certificate.
Couples may enjoy a lot of legal benefits of marriage in California, but they also face some legal and financial consequences. We advise couples to carefully consider their decision and make sure that both parties understand the rights and obligations marriage confers. If you would like to learn more about marriage licenses, review this information on how to apply for marriage licenses in large cities in California: