The Art of Undocumented Marriages

As I write this in October of 2017, I hate to admit that I know several people who are living what I call “undocumented marriages”.

It works like this. A man and a woman meet, fall in love, and get engaged. They tell everyone they’re getting married. They have engagement parties. They set a date for their wedding . . .  but they never really intend to get married. Some of them wear wedding rings. Many of them don’t care what others think and don’t wear them.

Here’s why. They can get a lot more welfare handouts if they’re not married. A common pattern is the man makes a good amount of money. Whether he’s blue collar or white collar. Whether he has a GED or a PhD. Whether he’s an independent consultant or a company man. He makes too much money for his family to qualify for big gov’t handouts if he and his woman tie the knot.

By not legally getting married, he can make the money, buy the house, buy the new cars, etc. She, by not being married, and unemployed or underemployed, can rake in the welfare while still enjoying the fruits of his labor.

These people are brilliant. Royal a$$holes, but brilliant. They are playing the system and and they are coming out winners.

They live like husband and wife in their private lives.  They share a home. They have children together. She uses a “married” name for everything but legal purposes. However, in the eyes of the government, he’s not her husband. He’s her landlord and the gov’t is helping to pay her rent (to him). They have kids but, because she’s unemployed and single, she gladly welcomes the handouts through WIC, free or subsidized child care, free school meals, etc. As a single parent, even though she’s actually living with the father of her children, she can usually get free or subsidized college for herself or her children. She gets taxpayer subsidized gov’t health insurance because she’s poverty stricken in the eyes of the gov’t. She usually has little or no income. She files for EITCs every year and they take a nice vacation when the check arrives.

Like I said. It’s brilliant. Annoying as hell to us taxpayers, but brilliant.

I wish I was kidding. I’m not. I (unfortunately) know several couples living this way (including some extended family). The stigma of “out of wedlock” children is gone. There is no societal compulsion to actually make their marriage legal. Several of the couples have openly discussed their decision to have an “undocumented marriage” and have zero guilt or remorse, or see any ethical dilemma. When I’ve questioned the fairness of what they’re doing, meaning expecting people like me to pay for their existence when they can do it themselves, they confidently say there’s nothing wrong with it. I’ve looked into it. I can’t find any evidence that it’s illegal to do this. If you can, let me know.

20+ years ago, I was deciding on which law school I wanted to attend so my husband and I went to visit a few of them. Financial aid was a big deal for me. At every school, in addition to meeting the Dean of Admissions and getting a tour, I spoke with a financial aid counselor. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth so I was paying for all of it. I needed to know my options. I will never forget what one of the financial aid counselors told me.

Unfortunately, I was planning to go to law school as a married person. That meant I was screwed in the financial aid arena. My husband would work while I went to law school. He didn’t make much, but it was enough to make me unqualified for any grants or other types of help. She apologized and gave me the same recommendation she gave to all of her married applicants, “GET A DIVORCE”. By getting a divorce, I would be going to law school as an unmarried, unemployed woman. I would have a ton of handouts coming my way. I asked her if that was ethical. She said it didn’t matter. It was legal. Then, she said, we could live together the entire time and we could get remarried after I was out of school. She said we didn’t need to even make a big deal about it. Just quietly file for divorce, I wouldn’t need to tell my family or friends, then have a simple marriage after three years of school. Nobody would need to know I was unmarried. I could still let everyone think we were married. It would just be so I could get all the gov’t handouts.

Needless to say, just because it was “legal” didn’t mean it was ethical and I walked out of that office incredibly mad and I scratched that school off the list.  I ended up at another school. I ended up staying married. I ended up taking out loans instead of taking gov’t handouts. To this day it still makes me mad to know so many people take advantage of the system with this “undocumented marriage” trick.

So, tell me, what should we do to fix this problem? Can it be fixed?

One response

  1. Get the government out of the handout business. Then more people could afford to go to college and grad school because it would be less expensive. And they could spend their own money, the fruits of their labor, on bettering themselves and their family rather than some stranger gaming the system.

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