After embracing singlehood for many years, I am now “over the moon” about sharing my life with the most incredible man. Justin is everything I ever hoped for in a mate and more. Together we share a level of intimacy most cannot imagine. What’s more, as our relationship has evolved, we have redefined and expanded the meaning of family. While not yet legally married, we feel more married than either of us felt with our former mates. Asked from time to time, “why not marry?” the answer is always the same, “what incentive do we have to do so?” While we love each other very much and do wish to marry, reality has a way of taking a bite out of personal preference as we find ourselves deferring our wedding plans until age 60 by circumstance rather than choice. To marry sooner would actually jeopardize our future. This reality is particularly difficult as we truly believe in marriage, feel more married in every possible way except on paper, and from time to time face the scrutiny and disapproval of friends, family, and the spiritual community at large for this decision. As difficult as this decision is for us to make, we are not alone. In fact, according to Bowling Green State University Demographer Susan Brown, a 2006 study indicates that 1.8 million Americans aged 50 and above live in heterosexual “unmarried-partner households.” This is a 50% increase from 2000 figures. More recent US Census data results are more staggering, indicating that between 2000 and 2008, the number of cohabiting persons aged 50 and older almost doubled, from 1.2 million to 2.2 million!
How is this possible, you ask? The answer is quite simple. It’s not practical financially or personally to do so. What’s more, current government policies fail us morally and socially by discouraging marriage and encouraging cohabitation! First off… the financial reasons, which include tax penalties, loss of military and pension benefits, loss of alimony, fear of incurring liability for partner’s medical expenses, credit rating protection, separation of current debt, increase in health insurance costs, and asset protection. Then there’s the personal reasons such as lack of concern over what others think, love and friendship over romance, concerns over children’s inheritance, and anti-marriage attitude carried over from a previous relationship. The final “nail in the coffin” is found in the government policies including social security benefits, Medicaid, and health care reform that all favor cohabitation over marriage. For example, did you know that widows who stayed home while their husbands worked must remain unmarried to keep their deceased husbands’ Social Security checks? This is also true in the case of divorce. If your former spouse earned more than your current partner, then you may lose significant Social Security benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 (50 if disabled). The incentives to cohabit rather than marry should love blossom again are huge. Then there’s the infamous “Medicaid divorce.” In this scenario, a loving couple divorce to make an ill spouse poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. This allows the other spouse to preserve what’s left of the family’s assets. Finally, there’s our recent health care reform. Thanks to this so-called “reform, unmarried couples actually receive “cohabitation bonuses.” Case in point… if two 60-year-olds earn $30,000 per year, cohabitating couples are entitled to $10,425 in health care subsidies, while the same couple would not be entitled to them if married.
As absurd as all this sounds, there are little if any incentives for couples young or old to marry anymore. And we haven’t even talked about today’s divorce rates!. What incentive do you have to marry when you are actually rewarded financially in a big way to defer, or actually forgo your wedding plans altogether? Once again, as baby boomers, we are testing our social institutions along with current social policies as we age. Hopefully, common sense will eventually prevail, with the necessary adjustments being made to social policies so couples like Justin and myself who truly believe in and want to marry can do so without being penalized.
Remember … touch a life today “The Little Way” by following the lead and need of others. Also, if you ever thought to yourself, “I wish my community, knew…”, then be sure to visit White Light Communications at http://www.tothewhitelight.com.