Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States

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It has been proposed that this article or section be merged with List of benefits of marriage in the United States.

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According to the United States' Government Accountability Office, there are slightly over one thousand federal laws that treat married people differently from single people.

These include:



  • right to many of ex- or late spouse's benefits, including
    • Social Security pension
    • veteran's pensions, indemnity compensation for service-connected deaths, medical care, and nursing home care, right to burial in veterans' cemeteries, educational assistance, and housing
    • survivor benefits for federal employees
    • survivor benefits for spouses of longshoremen, harbor workers, railroad workers
    • additional benefits to spouses of coal miners who die of black lung disease
    • $100,000 to spouse of any public safety officer killed in the line of duty
    • continuation of employer-sponsored health benefits
    • renewal and termination rights to spouse's copyrights on death of spouse
    • continued water rights of spouse in some circumstances
  • right to benefits while married
    • employment assistance and transitional services for spouses of members being separated from military service; continued commissary privileges
    • per diem payment to spouse for federal civil service employees when relocating
    • Indian Health Service care for spouses of Native Americans (in some circumstances)
  • larger benefits under some programs if married, including
  • preferential hiring for spouses of veterans in government jobs
  • tax free transfer of assets to spouse (including on death)
  • joint filing of bankruptcy permitted
  • special consideration to spouses of citizens and resident aliens
  • exemption from "due-on-sale" clauses when transferring property to a spouse
  • spouse's flower sales count towards meeting the eligibility for Fresh Cut Flowers and Fresh Cut Greens Promotion and Information Act
  • threats against spouses of various federal employees is a federal crime
  • right to continue living on land purchased from spouse by National Park Service when easement granted to spouse


  • spousal income and assets are counted in determining need in many forms of government assistance, including
    • veteran's medical and home care benefits
    • housing assistance
    • housing loans for veterans
    • child's education loans
    • educational loan repayment schedule
    • agricultural price supports and loans
    • eligibility for federal matching campaign funds
  • ineligible for National Affordable Housing program if spouse ever purchased a home
  • subject to conflict-of-interest rules for many government and government-related jobs
  • ineligible to receive various survivor benefits upon remarriage


There are some laws that either benefit or penalize married couples over single people, depending upon their own circumstances.

  • marriage penalty/bonus
  • someone working for their spouse cannot be defined as an "employee"
  • someone cannot change beneficiaries in a retirement plan or from waiving the joint and survivor annuity form of retirement benefit, without the written consent of his or her spouse
  • wages can be garnished at a maximum of 60% (instead of the normal 25% limit) if the garnishing is for alimony or child support


In addition, community-property states frequently have forms of ownership that allow a full basis step-up on one's own share of community property on the death of a spouse (in addition to the normal step-up on spouse's assets).

External resources

  • General Accounting Office's report (http://www.gao.gov/archive/1997/og97016.pdf)
  • Tax Administration: Income Tax Treatment of Married and Single Individuals. GAO/GGD-96-175, September 3, 1996.
  • [1] (http://politics.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=146877&threshold=5&mode=nested&commentsort=0&op=Change) " Lets just look at marriage rights, shall we? Here's just a handful.
    • Access to health insurance through the spouse's workplace
    • The right to custody of children after divorce
    • Visitation rights for non-biological children
    • Joint parenting rights, such as access to children's school records
    • Bereveament leave after death of a spouse
    • Burial determination after the death of a spouse
    • Domestic violence intervention
    • Sick leave to care for a spouse or non-biological child
    • Legal validation of a long term relationship
    • Ability to live in neighborhoods deemed "families only"
    • Access to life insurance in spouse's workplace
    • Access to survivor benefits in case of emergency
    • Access to spouse's crime victims' recovery benefits
    • Ability to file wrongful death claims
    • Right to shared property, child support, and alimony after divorce
    • Ability to file joint home and auto insurance policies
    • Joint rental leases with automatic renewal if spouse dies or leaves
    • Access to adopting children
    • Automatic inheritance of shared assets after spouse's death
    • Automatic inheritance of retirement savings tax-free after spouse's death
    • Automatic exemption of property tax increases on shared assets gained after spouse's death
    • Ability to file joint tax returns
    • Access to tax breaks for married couples
    • Assumption of spouse's pension after death
    • Ability to file joint bankruptcy
    • Ability to collect unemployment benefit after leaving a job to relocate because of spouse's job move
    • Ability to transfer property from one spouse to aother without transfer tax consequences
    • Access to fostering children
    • Automatic next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions and hospital visitation status
    • Immigration and residency priority for spouses from other countries
    • Ability to invoke spousal privilege in a court of law
    • Access to reduced rate memberships at health clubs, social clubs, organizations.
    • Prison visitation rights"

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