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 very 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.

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.

Save the date! We are getting married in 2027!

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? Comment below!]]>


  1. Ann on September 24, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    My now husband and I delayed marriage for a few years because of the marriage penalty–or more specifically I did and he was ok with doing whatever I wanted to do. We got married last year and our total tax bill was about 13k higher because of it! (We both make similar incomes). Before I got married, I didn’t think it mattered whether we were married or not–and why pay more in taxes if it doesn’t matter? But since being married, I do think differently about our relationship (as well as our joint finances), and I think that is a positive change for both of us. I don’t worry about the higher tax bill anymore–we can afford it and if that’s the cost of being married to him then so be it. I agree totally on being on the same page financially-we were from the start…I think that is the most important factor to look at of all the ones you mentioned–as even being in a long term relationship with someone who doesn’t share your values when it comes to money can portend disaster, married or not.

    • Miss Bonnie MD on September 24, 2017 at 2:56 pm

      If it was just marriage penalty tax we would have gotten married. It’s the prior marriage/son part. Let’s just say I know too many women physicians who married divorced men who keep getting dragged to court since they are now married to a “rich doctor wife.” Not worth that headache.

  2. The Vigilante on September 24, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    From a divorce attorney: This is wonderful. Thank you for understanding the pitfalls of marriage. Not that it’s a bad idea – I’m married myself – but it must be much more carefully considered than it usually is in our romantic age. You can have all the benefits of a loving relationship without involving the state to make what truly is a contractual relationship.

    The divorce rate being greater than 0% also helps explain why I strongly support prenuptial agreements. Prenups allow you to customize one-size-fits-all divorce laws that are often inappropriate for financially literate couples who don’t spend every penny they earn, and prenups are far cheaper than divorces. Depending on market, I’d guess $500-$2,000 for most prenups and AT LEAST $5,000-$10,000 for an average divorce with more than the most basic assets. If you assume you have, say, a 20% chance of divorce, you have to weigh the expected cost of divorce against the expected cost of getting a prenup and not using it. Hint: Prenup wins pretty much every time.

    • Miss Bonnie MD on September 25, 2017 at 7:53 am

      Thanks Vigilante! I find that not getting legally married is becoming increasingly common among my peers especially when there is a huge income gap. BTW, I emailed you, so check your spam!

      • The Vigilante on September 25, 2017 at 12:41 pm

        You self-identify as spam?! 🙂

  3. Reader on September 27, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Just found yourself and enjoy it! As another high income female professional with bonus kid(s), I would be interested in hearing how you deal with bonus kid expenses, including 529 plans and current educational or activities costs? Do you feel obliged (or desire) to share those expenses with your partner? Do you expect your partner to contribute the same amount to your bio kid as he does for your bonus kid? What about life insurance beneficiaries? I feel pretty detached from bonus kid expenses right now, especially since my partner makes more money than me, but these questions still weigh heavily on my mind. We haven’t completely merged our finances yet, though we intend to do so.

    • Miss Bonnie MD on September 27, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      I don’t really contribute much to bonus son’s expenses, but not much to contribute to at this time. Only activity is soccer which his mom pays for. We pay pay for summer camps when we split the summers. I make significantly more so fiance isn’t in a position to do both. Doesn’t bother me tbh, I make more than enough. We do take advantage of his lower tax bracket and work benefits – dependent care FSA for example. We have separate accounts but operate as one unit. He is required to have a certain amount of LI for his son – the rest goes to me and our son to be.

  4. MD2Bee on October 5, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    Miss Bonnie, I’m glad I found your blog and will come back to read every single post when I find more time! I want to share a dilemma I have and why I believe delaying marriage is the solution:

    My partner and I have been together for 8 years. We live together, share our finances, and plan to get married eventually. He’s in private practice and I’m a MS4. Our goal is to pay off his loans within 5 years, while I pursue the 10-year PSLF program. The problem is we live in a community property state, and from my understanding, married filing separately would not prevent his income from being used to calculate my monthly IBR payment, since I would have to report half of his earning on my tax return.

    Like one of the comments above stated, the marriage penalty is worth it to marry your significant other, but in my case, I would be hit with both the marriage penalty AND a higher monthly payment x 10 years.

    • Miss Bonnie MD on October 6, 2018 at 9:15 am

      Everyone is different in their beliefs so I am not telling you what to do – but consider getting married – have the wedding and all. Just don’t sign the paper until you’re done with PSLF. Also, please make sure you have the right loans and doing all the required paperwork. Email me if you’d like to join the Women Physicians Personal Finance group.

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