Why Marriage Is Still the Best Default for Families

Lawmakers are looking for ways to actively strengthen marriages and families for the future.  In Florida, legislators filed a bill recently to create a Marriage Education Handbook designed to help strengthen relationships between couples. The handbook would be distributed through court clerks in the state to those applying for marriage licenses. 

“So many young couples getting married today come from broken homes and cannot draw upon a living example of how marriage works,” said state Sen. Kelli Stargel, who filed one of the bills — SB 1586 . “Marriage is one of the greatest safeguards against poverty in our society and this handbook will be an invaluable resource to hundreds of thousands of newly married [and] could to help them develop healthy and strong marriages.” The handbook will include information on communication skills, conflict resolution, parenting and finance management. The book will also provide contact information to couples who may need personal or professional help with their marriages in the future. Private foundations will cover the production and design costs. Lawmakers will offer an amendment to the bill that will ensure the handbook includes resources to help victims of domestic violence. The amendment will also provide the clerk of the court with specific instructions outlining distribution of the handbooks.  Other states, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah have created marriage handbooks.

You can read more in the full article by Bethany Monk at CitizenLink.  

An equally important concern is the number of couples who are foregoing marriage and opting for cohabitation instead.  Though many of those cohabitants view living together as a step toward marriage, generally the opposite is true, as less than 40% of all cohabiting couples make the move to marriage.  This alternative relationship creates problems for the parties legally that they may be completely unaware of. 

My latest article published by the Penn State Law Review focuses in part on this issue in terms of estate planning.  You can access "Why Marriage is Still the Best Default for Estate Planning" at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). By analyzing the Tennessee bigamy case of legally blonde Reese Witherspoon's father, the New York same-sex marriage case of Windsor v. U.S., and the growing cultural trend toward cohabitation over marriage, this article discusses how and why marriage is the best estate plan to protect vulnerable parties as they age. 

The article examines how marriage assists vulnerable parties in avoiding potential conflicts in estate planning and distribution, particularly when those parties have entered into alternative relationships. Cohabitation does not afford the benefits of marriage, nor does it incentivize marriage or provide the benefits and protections often sought by those who enter into those marriage-like relationships. 

By contrasting the protection marriage affords to a vulnerable party in estate distribution and the dilemmas presented by marriage expansion (as illustrated in Witherspoon and Windsor) with the cultural disquiet over the importance of the nature and meaning of marriage, the article illuminates estate distribution conflicts in the context of the paradox of contemporary American socio-legal marriage culture. Despite the pop culture confusion over marriage, this article demonstrates why it is still the best default for estate planning conflicts, and for family restoration.  

Read Professor Kohm's latest article toward Family Restoration by downloading it at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2243680.


  1. I agree with the move towards having educational materials available for couples who are anticipating marriage. It educates people on what to expect and what possibility changes they may face in their lives. I also agree with premarital counseling where couples can discuss what they expect our of their respective roles in marriage. I have heard some states will forgo the marriage licensing fee if a couple complies with the state's requirements. This allows couples to work out potential issues which might cause the breakdown of a marriage in the future and helps to foster communication.

  2. I think is a very relevant and necessary piece. In a culture extremely focused on material items and self, many modern couples focus more on the wedding rather than the marriage or simply cohabitat. Also, with the ease and prevalence of divorce these days, it seems that the foundational commitment in marriage is lost! To potentially stop this problem of marital breakdown, the focus needs to be before the marriage and the commitment. Thus, couples can have the necessary tools before they enter into marriage instead of laying out their options while planning for a divorce. This article is excellent in providing the formal benefits of entering into marriage and how it's a smart decision!