NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unmarried Couples are Achieving Benefits Formerly Reserved for the Married

March 5, 2003

As more people -- from college grads to grandparents -- are living together without church or state sanctions, they are beginning to benefit from an increasing array of perks and protections. About 60 municipalities or states now have domestic-partner registries where unmarried couples can "make it official."

There are 5.5 million unmarried partner households in the United States, according to the 2000 census -- a 72 percent increase since 1990, and a whopping 1,000 percent jump since 1960.

  • Such couples can now get joint health and homeowners insurance.
  • The American Law Institute recently recommended sweeping changes in family law, including extending alimony-like payments to unmarried people who split up after long-term domestic partnerships.
  • Several state legislatures -- including California and Connecticut -- are now considering bills extending the rights of persons living together including, in California's case, the filing of joint state tax returns.
  • Partners would also have community property -- which means that assets accumulated during the relationship belong to both partners, with certain restrictions.

Married couples, however, still enjoy some protections not yet extended to the unmarried. Marriage brings with it automatic inheritance if one partner dies without a will. A legal spouse can make medical decisions concerning the care of an incapacitated partner, a right which is denied unmarried partners. And a surviving unmarried partner cannot collect Social Security benefits when the other partner dies.

Source: Rachael Emma Silverman, "The Upside of Living in Sin," Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB104680465395409240-search,00.html


Browse more articles on Government Issues