Why Wait? 5 Reasons to Delay Legal Marriage

Why wait to get married? Delaying legal marriage is becoming increasingly common. You probably have friends who are not legally married and not be aware of it. Ahem…we aren't.

Marriage has some legal benefits, but it also comes with several disadvantages as well. I've discussed before that marriage is a legal contract.

Most people do not think of it this way and do the typical “I love you” marriage. Historically, marriage was not meant for “love.” It was, in many ways, a business transaction between families.

Moreover, current marriage and divorce laws were put in place to mainly protect the woman as women often were homemakers and would be financially devastated in the event of a divorce. Hence why there are alimony or spousal support laws.

As more women join the workforce and become the breadwinning partner (this is often the case for women physicians!), these laws can seem antiquated and often work against us.

My goal is to make you aware of all the pros and cons of legal marriage. I am not suggesting that you never get married. But, it may make a lot of sense to delay marriage for some time.

So, here are the reasons to consider delaying legal marriage:

Marriage Penalty Tax

Most people think you get a tax break by getting married. It depends. Most people don’t realize that the married filing jointly tax brackets are not just a matter of doubling the single brackets.

Depending on how much you and your spouse make, you may actually pay a marriage penalty tax. This mainly occurs when both partners make a similar income. The marriage bonus mainly applies to couples where one spouse makes a lot less or is a stay at home parent. Here is a calculator to see if you'll get a marriage bonus or penalty.

Since this post went live there has been a major overhaul in the tax code in 2018, so the marriage penalty is lessened.

Blended Families

Blended families are commonly defined as one partner brings in children from a previous marriage or relationship. This factor can add complexity to the relationship. If this is your situation, that doesn't mean marriage is off the table. It's just worth considering the complexities of the situation.

You should be aware of all the financial obligations your partner has and consult a family lawyer in the state of custodial residence of the children. Child support laws are state specific. You may have heard that your income and assets won't matter since they are not your biological children but that may not be the case. This will not deter an ex-spouse from trying to get at your assets. Even if the suit is frivolous, you will still need to hire a lawyer (read: fees) and spend time on the matter.

In my opinion, this is a top reason to delay legal marriage until the children no longer require child support and college support. The FAFSA does not ask for your income, but the college can. If you are going to take this route, I highly recommend you get paperwork — Wills, Health Care Proxies, and Power of Attorneys — in place, especially if you have children with your partner.

Student Loans

Delaying legal marriage can make a lot of sense financially if you are with another high income earner and you're pursuing some some of income-based repayment for student loans. Otherwise, most attendings have their loan repayment as an attending capped out at the standard 10 year plan. That means that there is no benefit unless the debt to income ratio is above 2 for the attending.

If you are getting married, timing matters! Do not get married in November or December due to the timing of recertifying payments. January weddings are great because of when you need to certify repayment, which looks back at prior year tax returns. Before delaying marriage for this reason, I definitely recommend seeking professional student loan advice.

Financial Issues

One of the biggest challenges in a relationship comes when you and your partner are not on the same financial page. I recommend premarital financial counseling for all couples.  Through this process you may find there are some major discrepancies.

Getting married will not magically fix them (or other pre-existing issues!). If both of you are committed to each other despite these differences, take the time to iron out them out before walking down the aisle.

The Divorce Rate

And finally, you might want to delay legal marriage because the divorce rate is > 0%. This may seem obvious, but no one really thinks about the divorce rate nor do they think they will get divorced. The divorce rate overall is not 50% as often quoted and even lower among physicians and highly educated folks. You're looking at 25-30ish%. But it still is not 0%.

I think it is foolish to think divorce cannot happen to you. This is not a reason in itself to not get married. Premarital counseling, discussing common life goals, and a well thought out prenuptial agreement will go a long way.

Why We Plan to Delay Legal Marriage

We will face a marriage penalty tax. I'd rather throw the 5-10K in penalty taxes towards my student loans. Also, my income would bump M up to my tax bracket, so that means less take home income for him.

We are a blended family. He has a son from a previous marriage. Unfortunately, us getting married puts us at financial risk. After consulting a few family lawyers, they all told me I should delay marriage until my bonus son has completed college as my income will likely be imputed for his financial aid eligibility.

Final Thoughts on Delaying Marriage

This isn't about not being in love or not being committed. In fact, deciding to wait to get married could be another way to show just how dedicated you are to your relationship. Whether you decide to wait or not, make sure you consider each of these reasons before tying the knot.

What do you think? Would you consider delaying marriage?

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