Archive for Monday, September 11, 2000

Lawyer offers advice on advantages of being married

September 11, 2000

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Dear Ann: I agree with your response to "Wounded in L.A.," who had a baby but was in no hurry to marry her longtime, live-in boyfriend. Her mother was upset, and refused to see the grandchild. You said the mother should not punish the baby, but you wondered why they didn't get married for the child's sake. May I expand on that?

Some people see no reason to marry, and they are entitled to their opinion. In most states, however, marriage can be the best way to protect yourself legally if you buy property together or have a child. In many states, a surviving spouse and children inherit everything unless it is specifically excluded in a will, trust or prenuptial agreement. Also, if your life partner dies, you are in a better position if you are married because money passes from spouse-to-spouse free of federal estate tax.

If you are married, you are your spouse's next of kin and usually have the right to make medical decisions in the event of a serious illness or incapacitating condition. If you are not married, your partner's nearest blood relative will make these decisions, and you could be excluded entirely. This is one reason why many gay couples fight so hard for the right to marry.

Anyone who thinks it is easier for an unmarried couple to split up is kidding himself, especially if a child is involved. Once there are children, your life is legally tied to the other person forever, unless one of you is willing to give up parental rights. Some couples sign agreements to establish rights similar to married couples, but not all states will recognize these agreements, and neither will some foreign countries, which can create problems if you travel overseas with your child.

Anyone who has chosen a life partner and has a child should be grateful our legal system has these built-in protections. People in such a relationship who refuse to marry should ask themselves why they are so reluctant to take that step. "Wounded" and her Significant Other should run to the nearest courthouse and make it legal. Pro-Romance Lawyer in New York.

Dear N.Y. Lawyer: Thank you for several thousand dollars worth of free legal advice. You've educated millions of people today, including me.

Dear Ann: I am a grown woman and the youngest of four children. My father died three years ago, and my mother remarried shortly thereafter. She has always been very self-centered, but we do not begrudge her the happiness she has found with someone new.

I have met my mother's new husband only one time. He seems very pleasant, and he makes Mom happy. The problem is, she insists that I introduce him as my stepfather. I do not feel comfortable with such familiarity. I have introduced them as "my mother, Jane So-and-So, and her husband, John," and I believe this respects their marriage and should be sufficient.

My mother is upset because I do not refer to him as my stepfather. Ann, there was no "fathering" involved. Perhaps I will change my mind as time goes on, but I resent being forced into it when I barely know the man. Am I being excessively loyal to my father's memory, or is my mother being too domineering? Only One Daddy in Florida

Dear Only One Daddy: Ignore the pressure, and call your mother's husband whatever is comfortable for YOU. You are an adult woman, and if your mother doesn't recognize this, perhaps she needs to be reminded.

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