The Christmas season can be a magical time, especially for children. Every child deserves to have a fun and happy Christmas, and if The Spirit of Giving Foundation has any say, they will have one. The non-profit organization specializes in giving kids a good Christmas, and has done so for more than 15 years. How they go about it is by finding families in need, and taking their parents to Walmart, where they are given a gift card in order to buy their children gifts. What makes the Spirit of Giving Foundation special is that they do not ever take family history into account when deciding which families to help. While other charities might exclude a family because one of the parents has a history of drug abuse, The Spirit of Giving Foundation believes that children in those situations deserve a happy Christmas just as much as anyone else. They like to say that even kids of naughty parents deserve presents. Their track record proves just how successful the charity has been, as well. There are hundreds of letters of thanks, some from mothers with a single misdemeanor, to single parents who work so many jobs that they never see their kids, all the way to fathers with multiple burglary charges. The important thing, according to Spirit of Christmas Foundation founder Jim Jamieson, is that “those people need help and that’s all we really care about is that people need help. I meet the people. I listen to them. I take to heart what I see, what I hear. Then I decide if I would like to help them.” The spirit of the season is alive and well in Florida, it seems.
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It is now a requirement that all Americans  be covered by health insurance by January 1, 2014.  For those Americans who fail to obtain insurance under the new Obamacare insurance exchanges, they will be  fined by the IRS come tax time.

Unfortunately for those couples planning to marry in the near future, it might make more sense to stay unmarried.  According to an article in CNN Money, many unmarried couples may end up “paying less for subsidized insurance than if they were married.”

Subsidies on the ACA insurance are determined by federal poverty levels.  To qualify for a subsidy under Obamacare, your income has to be between poverty level and four times that amount for your household size.  The more money you make, the smaller the subsidy.  The federal poverty level for a one-person household is set at $11,900.  Unfortunately the government caps the poverty level for a two-person household at $15,510, only $4000 more than that of a single household.  This calculation places those couples planning to marry out of the range of subsidy eligibility, and thus it makes more sense financially to stay single.

If a couple making $20,000 each with no children were to marry, they would pay $1300 more for their insurance plans as a married couple than they would if they remained single according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Insurance Subsidy Calculator.  According to Kaiser, the same holds true no matter where the couple resides in the U.S.

Another example illustrating how married couples are penalized under ACA was given by Hans Bader, an attorney for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Bader gave the example of a 40-year-old couple with children, where the husband earned $70,000 a year and his wife earned $23,000 per year.  This couple could save $7,200 per year by obtaining a legal divorce and then continue living together as an unmarried couple instead of a married couple.

Although the new health insurance act will make it possible for uninsured Americans to obtain health coverage, it may cause those couples wishing to marry to postpone their marriage plans because of the cost of health insurance as a married couple under Obamacare.

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Many remember the old playground song, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Mary (or any child’s name) with a baby carriage.”  Though in days gone by, this adage may have been true, in recent years the sequence of steps to marriage has been quite different.

Recent research has shown that for many Americans, first comes college, then a good job, a house and a savings account, and then comes marriage.

Experts say that compared to past decades, the number of Americans who are getting married today  has decreased dramatically, and the demographics of those marrying have shifted dramatically, as well.

Those individuals with a college degree in today’s world are the ones more likely to marry and stay married than those people with less education.  These marriage trends, according to some experts, reflect what’s happening in the economy of our country today. 

Susan Brown, a university sociology professor, said, “What we’re seeing with marriage trends today mirrors what’s happening in our broader economy, where we’re seeing diverging fortunes for those at the upper and lower end of the spectrum, with rising inequality.”

Not all agree with Brown, however.  Some experts say that those with higher education with the potential to earn higher incomes look for a spouse who is well educated and thus has the potential to earn a higher income, as well.

Research has shown the more education you have, the better earning potential you have, and the more likely you are to marry and stay married.

Experts have found that not only do higher educated people marry each other, they are also more likely to choose marriage than those of lower education and less income.  The rapid decline of marriage among those with just a high school diploma experts believe is because less educated people feel marriage is out of their reach because their lack of education leads to lower paying jobs which makes it difficult meet the higher standards of marriage today. 

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Many times those couples who have enjoyed a long, happy marriage, find discord in their marriage once they retire.  Instead of enjoying their “golden years” these couples are experiencing serious marital problems that can actually threaten their marriage. 

According to a 2013 Fidelity Investment Couples Retirement Study, one of the reasons marital satisfaction drops and conflicts rise is because the married couple disagrees on how, when and where they will retire.  The survey discovered that:

  • Thirty-eight percent of couples disagree as to the lifestyle they expect to live once they retire
  • Thirty-six percent of couples do not agree on where they plan to live in retirement
  • One-third of couples approaching retirement don’t agree on whether they will continue working in retirement

When a couple retires, the dynamics of the marriage changes.  Instead of spending just a portion of the day together, the couple will now spend the majority of the day and night together.  The newly retired couple will need to not only work out how to spend time together, but also learn to give each other space, too.

Experts in the field have found that for some couples spending extended time together in retirement can bring out habits and characteristics in a spouse that are irritating and annoying.  These annoying traits were always there, but once a couple spends so much time together, they become more apparent and more aggravating.

When a couple retires, their life changes.  Many people view retirement as a loss of roles, income and productivity. A married couple needs to plan for retirement in more ways than financially.

When a couple retires, they initially find themselves in each others space as well as having too much time on their hands.  To successfully navigate retirement, the couple will need to grow both together and individually.  Looking for activities to do individually and as a couple, enrolling in a college course or volunteering will help keep a couple busy. 

Although it may take time to adjust to retirement, by keeping busy with new activities and by communicating openly and honestly with each other, a married couple can successfully navigate and enjoy this new phase in their lives.

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At the end of last month, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a new policy for legally married same-sex couples – the IRS will now treat legal same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual marriages for federal tax purposes.

The IRS’s new policy comes at the heels of the June Supreme Court ruling that overturned portions of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and comes about also because of the Court’s decision regarding Edith Windsor, a woman who was denied the federal spousal exemption to the estate tax when her wife passed away.

In the new ruling, the IRS will allow legally married same-sex couples to file tax returns as a married couple regardless of whether or not they live in a state that recognizes gay marriage. Those same-sex couples that married before DOMA was struck down can, if they so choose, file amended tax returns for prior tax years.

Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, in a statement said that the new policy “assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

This new policy, however, does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or other formal relationships recognized by some states. 

When the policy change was announced, same-sex couples throughout the country reacted with joy and relief, with one couple stating that “now they felt they were a legitimate family.”

What does this mean for same-sex couples who live in Florida, a state that does not recognize gay marriage?  This new policy makes it possible for a same-sex Florida couple to legally marry in another state that recognizes same-sex marriages, return to Florida to live and then file tax returns as a married couple, thus reaping the same federal tax deductions as that of a heterosexual married couple.

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On Wednesday, in what could be considered a victory for gay rights, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling struck down the provision of a federal law that denies federal benefits to married gay couples. 

The court’s decision struck down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept those legally married gay couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.

The court also declared California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, although the justices did not use the term “same-sex marriage” in their ruling.  However, by declaring the proposition unconstitutional, state officials in California will probably order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the state.

In the courts final session, the justices did not address the validity of gay marriage bans in California and numerous other states.

In the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “We have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the 9th Circuit.”  The 9th Circuit Court was the federal appeals court that struck down Proposition 8.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the case involving the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) saying, “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways.  DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

Justice Kennedy also added, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.  By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

DOMA was signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, and prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home state, from receiving benefits available to other married couples under federal law.

Twelve states plus the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage.

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Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has been known as a strong supporter of gay rights.  Unfortunately for same-sex couples, the democratic senator withdrew an amendment from the immigration reform bill aimed at benefiting same-sex couples.  Senator Leahy’s amendment would have allowed American citizens to sponsor same-sex foreign partners for green cards. 

According to Immigration Equality, a national advocacy group, there are about 36,000 U. S. citizens in same-sex relationships that are unable to sponsor their spouse or partner for residency.  This advocacy group reports those couples are raising more than 25,000 children across our nation.

One same-sex couple, Jason Kirchick and Christian Pinillos, who were married in Vermont in 2011, had counted on Leahy’s amendment to assist Pinillos in obtaining his green card to stay in this country.  Now the couple are afraid Pinillos will be deported because he lost his professional work visa when he was laid off in March.

The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage between a man and a woman and therefore the couple’s green-card spousal petition was denied.  Pinillos is waiting for the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services to contact him with information on whether or not he will receive a temporary reprieve from deportation.

Senator Leahy withdrew his amendment after Republican backers of the Immigration Bill said the proposed amendment would sink the bill. 

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said, “You’ve got me on immigration; you don’t have me on marriage.  If you want to keep me on immigration, let’s stay on immigration.”

Same-sex couples are now hoping the Supreme Court overturns DOMA in June.  If the act is overturned, then married same-sex couples would have the same rights as married heterosexual couples and therefore could sponsor their foreign spouses for green cards.

Kirchick said, “We are anxiously praying and hoping that the Supreme Court makes the right decision… we can then move on with the rest of our lives.”

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Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a marriage survey last year in which they interviewed 22,000 men and women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four.  Forty percent of those interviewed  in the study were married.  In their study, researchers found that the growing trend of living together before marriage no longer plays a role in predicting divorce as it has in the past.

The trend of living together before marriage is so common – approximately sixty percent of couples live together before they marry – that “it’s not surprising it no longer negatively affects marital stability,” stated  Wendy Manning, the co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

CDC researchers found those couples who were engaged and living together before they married were just as likely to have marriages that lasted fifteen years as those couples who did not live together.  Researchers also found those women who either lived together and were engaged or who did not live with their future spouse before the wedding had a sixty percent chance of their marriage surviving for at least fifteen years.

However, the study did reveal the marriages of those couples who lived together but were not engaged were less likely to survive to the ten-to-fifteen-year mark. 

The explanations for these findings could be more lax attitudes concerning commitment, lower education levels or family histories that may have created pessimism about marriage in these couples.

One professor of Human Development and Family Science at Oregon State University, Richard Setterson, Jr., said  cohabitating before marriage is different for each individual.  Those living as a couple may see the experience “as a trial marriage, usually without kids, that often ends in marriage.”  However, there are those people who put off marriage because they are pursuing an education or have just started a new career or who just move from “one living-together relationship to another.”

This study by the CDC did report one statistic than many other studies have recently reported – nearly half of all first marriages in this country will end in divorce within twenty years.

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When two people are united in marriage, they simplify their lives by combining financial assets such as checking and saving accounts, a move which, according to one marriage therapist, Beth Erickson,  brings “greater intimacy.” 

Erickson’s view is shared by the majority of Americans as showed by a recent survey conducted by  Merrill Lynch in February.  According to Merrill Lynch’s Affluent Insights Survey, “89 percent of married couples manage their money collaboratively.”  The survey revealed, however, that 57 percent of these married couples argue over money.

Not all financial experts believe pooling finances in a marriage is a wise move.  Financial adviser Nick Scheumann said, “It would be better if more people split it out.  When it comes to commingled assets, a lot of married people can’t handle it.”  The survey conducted by Merrill Lynch reports that money disputes are the significant contributor to one in three divorces.

Listed below are five benefits of keeping finances separate in a marriage.

  • Separate Accounts Add Flexibility and Safety of Diversified Investments – A married couple can insure more when each person sets up a separate account.
  • Credit Scores Stay Single – Credit scores are tied to single individuals, not couples.  Opening a bank account in your own name is the first step in establishing your credit score.
  • Shared Money Means Shared Responsibility – When a couple pools their money, neither person takes full responsibility for the account, and that makes it easier to spend and harder to save.
  • Marriage Is Not Always a Tax Benefit – An accountant can figure out if you would reap more savings by filing single or as a married couple.
  • Self-Employed and Small-Business Expenses – Again, an accountant would be needed to assess whether it would be beneficial to have separate or joint accounts come tax time.

One compromise for couples deciding whether to pool finances or not would be to keep some accounts separate while establishing a joint account both spouses contribute to for covering household expenses.

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The United States Supreme Court heard arguments last week for and against government efforts to protect traditional marriage from same-sex marriage.  Whether or not the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional was under discussion by the court on Wednesday. 

DOMA was passed in 1996 and defines legal marriage as a marriage between a man and a woman and thus  prevents legally married gay couples from collecting federal benefits available to straight couples.

The New York Times reported the majority of the high court asked highly skeptical questions concerning the constitutionality of the law, with  justices voicing their opinions that marriage is a matter for the states, and not the federal government.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the pivotal justice on the issue, said DOMA ignores those states “which have come to the conclusion that gay marriage is lawful.”

According to an article in al.com, it appears that five of the nine justices are ready to strike down the act.  Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voiced her opinion  the law targeted gay couples by withholding things such as tax advantages, Social Security benefits and leave to care for a spouse.

If DOMA is struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the effect would be legally married gay couples in those nine states and the District of Columbia that now allow same-sex marriages would be eligible for federal benefits. 

A ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of DOMA is  not expected until June of this year.

Original story found here.

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