Civil Unions vs. Marriage

A realm within the family law field revolves around the legally binding relationship between two individuals, however, there are two different ways that a couple may be legally bound: civil unions and marriage. While these are both forms of legal binding, there is indeed a difference between the two and understanding those differences and similarities is a key element within family law. If you have questions about either of these forms, contact your family law attorney.

Defining Civil Unions and Marriage

A civil union is very similar to marriage and is available in several states but it has clear distinctions between marriages. A civil union is defined as a legal relationship between two individuals that provides legal protections to the couple only at the state level. Civil unions were originally created to allow same-sex couples a method to legally commit to one another despite their inability to get married. As the laws have morphed over time and same-sex marriage has become legal in the United States, civil unions are becoming less relevant and in some states, they have even converted civil unions into legal marriages.

Marriage is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. In some cases, marriage is centered around religious beliefs, but in all marriages, the joining partners are united in law. Those who are married have their union recognized by the entire country and do not experience any discrepancies. Marriage can occur between couples that consist of a man and woman as well as couples who consist of two men or two women as the laws have changed over time. Marriages may be officiated and legally approved by a variety of different leaders within the church as well as those who have held a particular position within the government or court. While civil unions and marriage may seem similar and do indeed have aspects in common, there are legal differences between the two that individuals must understand especially in matters regarding family law.

Similarities Between Civil Unions and Marriage

While there is indeed a difference between these two forms of partnership, there is also a wide variety of similarities. In both marriage and civil union, partners are given inheritance rights. This right allows the partner to automatically receive the property that belonged to their partner in the event that one were to die. Additionally, if one of the partners in a civil union or marriage were to die, the other partner is entitled to bereavement leave in order to appropriately mourn the loss. Another similarity between civil unions and marriage is that a spouse is entitled to employment benefits, which includes things such as health, dental, and vision insurance. The medical field will also recognize a partner in a civil union or marriage as the next of kin.

In marriage, the couple is entitled to joint ownership of their property as well as community property rights if they happen to be in a community property state and the same is true for those who are in a civil union. Similar to property ownership, in both marriage and civil union partners have joint parental rights over their children in circumstances of birth or being adopted. Couples who are joined together by marriage or civil union also both have the option of joint state tax filings and the right not to testify against their partner in a court of law.

Differences Between Civil Unions and Marriage

While these two types of legal companionship share a variety of similarities, there are some key differences that led individuals to choose one over the other in their relationships. The main difference between civil unions and marriage is the way that states and the federal government recognize them. Some states recognize civil unions whereas others do not, so if a couple were to be united by a civil union in one state and they end up moving to a state that does not recognize civil unions, they would not be granted the rights that they were previously. Additionally, the federal government does not recognize civil unions unless they have been converted to marriages, thus, they do not receive the same rights that those do within marriage. Married couples have the right to file their federal taxes jointly and have access to their spouse’s Social Security and Medicaid benefits whereas those in civil unions do not as they are not recognized by the federal government.

Under federal law, civil unions are not deemed a legal and binding form of partnership, unless they are converted to marriage, and do not have access to a wide variety of benefits provided by the federal government. Those who are in a civil union do not receive social security entitlement benefits through their partners due to not being recognized by the federal government. In addition, those who are in a civil union with a federal employee does not have access to their partner’s federal employee benefits. Civil union joined partners that are of foreign nationals are also not allowed to submit family-based immigration petitions. Couples that are joined by civil unions are at the mercy of the laws set in place at each state and their benefits as well as restrictions will vary state to state. Fortunately for couples who are in a same-sex civil union partnership, they are allowed to see a marriage license in whichever state they reside and become eligible for all the benefits that they previously lacked access to in a civil union.

The Law Office of Julie R. Glade, RN, JD

For those who seek guidance and representation to understand the benefits and restrictions of a civil union as well as a marriage, the Law Office of Julie R. Glade, RN, JD is available to assist. Couples who are choosing to be bound legally deserve to have a complete understanding of the type of union they are getting into and with a top family law attorney, such as those from the Law Office of Julie R. Glade, RN, JD, couples can achieve that.

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