First comes the proposal, then comes a mad rush of planning the big day, whether it’s at the courthouse or a lavish wedding with matching cummerbunds. With the ban on gay marriage lifted in Florida, same-sex couples across the state are finally able to make their relationships official under the eyes of the law.
Which also means there’s lot of important, technical conversations and decisions that need to be made.
“There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there and so it’s just being able to get your arms around all of it and really, really understand and make sure you’re not missing anything,” said Scott Farber, senior vice president and wealth strategist at U.S. Trust. “There’s a lot going on, there are a lot of moving pieces.”
While same-sex couples by the law will be viewed the same as a heterosexual couple, for comfort’s sake, finding an attorney or accountant who has worked with LGBT couples may be best.
“Ask how familiar that individual is with the federal marriage laws,” Lori Barkus, an attorney in Weston, recommended. “A good question would be, how many situations similar to mine have you handled? Are you familiar with the laws relating to tax filings for same-sex couples who are married? Couples who were previously filing single but are now married?”
Perhaps the most sobering piece of advice?
“Don’t rush into do anything, because there are pretty dramatic ramifications to getting married,” Farber said.
They say money can tear a couple apart. Farber said sitting down to discuss one another’s finances, if you haven’t already, is the most important discussion to have before getting married. What kinds of financial goals do you both have? Are you coming in with credit card debt, student loans? What are your credit scores? Should a couple look to buy a home, these things will come into play.
“You want to understand what each one of you is bringing to the marriage in the way of assets, in the way of debt,” he said.
Many same-sex couples have been together for years and acting as a married unit, so issues such as who will take care of the electric and cable bills may already be a habit. However, there’s also some research to find out what other benefits married couples can receive. For example, some car insurance companies will give multi-car discounts, so switching to the same company would be beneficial in that case.
“When you really start to add up all the little effects that the change in legal status can have, the numbers can actually start to get fairly large,” Farber said.
While some companies offer partner benefits, which was great for same-sex couples and domestic partners, not all do. Being legally married allows you to take advantage of one another’s benefits. That includes retirement, health insurance, life insurance, and more. Compare the offerings side by side — whose is cheaper? More comprehensive? Do we go onto the same health insurance plan or stick to what we already have? If you’re planning on having children, which plan is better for families?
Being married also means you’ll have to update your W4 forms, adding a dependent into the mix. Farber says human resources departments tend to be very skittish about giving advice on tax information, so going to your accountant is another way to figure out what other documents need to be updated. Social security is another benefit that couples can share — after 10 years, couples can receive half of their spouse’s benefits, Barkus said.
If a partner is receiving government benefits, that will also have to be revisited, and it’s possible that with combined salaries, you’ll no longer be eligible. This includes food stamps, homestead exemptions, and healthcare through the Affordable Care Act.
“If people are married, the income of the spouse is now considered household income,” Barkus said. “They could lose those government benefits.”
Aside from a prenuptial agreement, spouses have rights to 50 percent of their partner’s estate, whether it be property, money, or other belongings.
“If you’re not married and your relationship ends, nobody is obligated to support the other person, “Barkus said. “However, once you get married, the law may look at the financial circumstances and if one person is in need of the financial support of the other, the court will award alimony.”
In some ways, a couple’s estate is where the rules deviate from heterosexual couples because not all states recognize same-sex marriage. If a spouse owns property in another state or even another country, it could complicate legal matters.
“A lot of people have homes in other places or family in other places; that can change the playing field,” Farber said.
When it comes to traveling, Farber highly recommends for couples of any sexual orientation to bring important documents with them to prove their marital status. At a minimum, a dual power of attorney, health care proxy, and living will. Should one spouse be injured while on vacation, these documents will help the other be a part of end-of-life decisions and be allowed in the hospital room.
With the change in marriage laws for same-sex couples, the state will also have to revisit its adoption laws. Previously, many same-sex couples opted for a single-parent adoption, only giving one parent legal rights to the child. Now, the second parent can file for second-parent adoption. At Barkus’s firm, they’re already beginning this process.
“Once the couple marries, the partner who didn’t adopt is now considered a stepparent and that adoption process is actually easier,” she said.