The law and being unmarried


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Not all University of Iowa students are looking for a ring before spring.

For some, their future does not include walking down the aisle. Instead, they are focusing on what it could mean to live an unmarried life. And a symposium by the UI College of Law is looking to educate students on the legal side of singledom.

“There’s just a variety of issues that people face [because] if you’re unmarried, the law treats things a little differently, [and] we don’t always have the remedy,” said Stacey Warren, a family lawyer at Babich Goldman P.C., in Des Moines.

Warren is one of many speakers who will speak at the symposium “Unmarried Life: Know Your Rights,” presented by the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice at the UI College of Law. The event is designed to answer questions and provide information for students who may consider opting out of marriage.

“As unmarried, as either male-female or same-sex couples, relationships have a variety of spins and twists and turns, and there are certain issues unmarried people may face compared with married people,” Warren said

One example that will be discussed will highlight possible complexities if one partner passes away, which could mean trouble when it comes to home ownership and funeral arrangements.

Warren said many people don’t realize some of the legal differences that become obvious in crises when couples aren’t married, noting some of the problems revolve around issues of paternity, property ownership, health insurance, and finances.

A UI law student who helped plan the event said clearing up the confusion is the main goal.

“It’s a nice refresher to have all these people in their fields come and talk,” said Tyler Coe, a third-year law student at the UI. “Our goal is to educate the public on how to get around their problems and [to inform them about] which people to call.”

One area Coe said he will mention is how an unmarried life may affect same-sex couples.

“I imagine I’ll commiserate about that at some point,” he said in an email. “After all, [Varnum v. Brien] landmark ruling that I suspect a myriad of future undergraduate, graduate, and law professors will profess about from casebooks.” 

Matty Smith, communications director for One Iowa — the largest LGBT organization in the state — said the symposium will bring up issues that need to be discussed, not only in terms of all types of marriages but also in relation to LGBT rights.

“Iowa has had same-sex marriage for about five years, and I don’t want to think people take it for granted, but I think it’s a reminder that some people aren’t as lucky as they are [here] in Iowa,” he said. “I think when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down [The Defense of Marriage Act], that was a step in the right direction, but we still have a lot to do before LGBT people are looked at fairly in the law.”

The conversation, he said, begins with events such as this, which help address differences in the LGBT community.

“With the older generation of LGBT people, it was just assumed you would cohabitate and not get married,” he said. “I think that juxtaposition between the older generation and younger generation can be really eye-opening, and can explain some of these disparities still in the U.S.”

Warren said in the end it comes down to the same thing for all couples, same-sex or not — discussion is the key.

“I think the bottom line is to think of these things,” she said. “Life is simple, yes, but relationships are complicated … and with the failure to think and be proactive with issues, you can complicate your life.”

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