Money Talks | Nov. 6, 2014

Rights and Responsibilities: What Marriage Equality Really Means

By Melissa Myers and Michael J. Tucker, Nov. 6, 2014.

Supreme Court Gay MarriageNow that Arizona law recognizes same-sex marriage, let’s review the primary rights and responsibilities involved. Besides love and companionship, there are many benefits to marriage, especially in the eyes of the law. In fact, you may have heard that something like 1,138 legal benefits, rights and responsibilities are associated with marriage. We’ll highlight a few critical ones:

Rights and Benefits

• Visitation rights and ability to make medical decisions, unless otherwise specified in a living will.

• Benefits for government employees (many of which are also offered by private employers), such as family medical leave, pension and retirement spousal benefits, family health insurance plans.

• Many property and inheritance rights, even in the absence of a will.

• Tax benefits, such as unlimited tax-free gifts to a spouse and filing joint tax returns.

• The ability to receive certain Social Security, disability and veteran’s spousal benefits.

• Discount or family rates for auto, health and homeowners insurance.

• Immigration and residency benefits, making it easier to bring a spouse to the U.S. from abroad.

• Visiting rights in jail.


• Spousal income and assets are counted in determining need in many forms of government assistance, including veteran’s medical and home care benefits, housing benefits, home loans for veterans, child’s education loans, education loan repayment schedule and federal healthcare subsidies.

• Ineligible to receive various survivor benefits upon remarriage.

• Providing financial support for minor children where both spouses are legal parents.

• Providing spousal maintenance in the event of divorce.

Property Rights

In community property states such as Arizona, both spouses enjoy equal rights to nearly all assets acquired or income earned by either of them during the marriage.

• Debt: Most debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage are owed by the “community” (the couple), even if only one spouse signed the paperwork for a particular debt. Once married, creditors may go after both spouses for debts incurred while either party was single (even though under the law it won’t automatically become a joint debt).

• Income: All income earned by either spouse during marriage, as well as property bought with that income, constitutes community property, owned equally by both spouses.

• Exceptions: Gifts and inheritances received by one spouse, as well as separate property owned before marriage that’s kept separate, are the separate property of one spouse. All income or property acquired after a divorce or legal separation is also separate.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements aren’t only about “You vs. Me,” they’re also about “Us vs. Them,” meaning that such agreements can insulate couples from each other’s debts (both incurred prior to marriage and incurred during the marriage). This is a little-known and poorly understood benefit of prenuptial agreements. And so a prenuptial agreement can come in handy when you want to marry someone, but you don’t particularly want to risk being responsible for their tax debts, child support obligations, credit cards, students loans, professional liability, and so forth.

• A prenuptial agreement is a binding contract negotiated and signed before your wedding that defines the terms of the relationship between you and your soon-to-be spouse, particularly the financial elements. Most states allow married persons to agree that all property acquired by one spouse during the marriage belongs only to that individual. 

• A postnuptial agreement is a corresponding arrangement entered into after the couple is already married. In Arizona, both prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements are legally enforceable.

BIO_MMyersMTucker_WEBThis material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Investors should consult a tax or legal professional regarding their individual situation. Neither Camelback nor Commonwealth offers tax or legal advice.