Breach of contract

When two (or more) parties enter into a contract, those parties are bound to the terms contained in the document. Presumably both parties signing the contract believe that they are benefiting in some way from the contract or else they would not do it.

Now of course this does not always work out. Sometimes one party will do something that violates the terms of the contract. Maybe there is some dispute as to what the contract really means or which party is living up to the contract and which one is not. There may even be some financial consequences or penalties imposed by one party on another for breaking the contract. Those things are justifiably handled through some form of arbitration (i.e., the civil court system). But ultimately such a dispute would be between the parties who entered into the contract and no one else.

There are certain contracts, however, that our society places special emphasis on. These contracts have ripple effects beyond the parties that enter into them. Marriage is the best example. The same two people in the exact same living situation with the exact same income would be taxed differently if they were married than they would be if they were unmarried. Insurers give married people lower rates than single people (presumably because some actuary determined that married people were less risky to insure than unmarried people). In short, staying single can be costly.

I recently received a questionnaire from my health insurance company (which, coincidentally, is also my employer) asking me if I was still married to the person who is covered under my policy as a spouse…which I am. Apparently my willingness to have money deducted from my paycheck to cover her is not enough to satisfy the health insurance company. I actually have to remain legally married to her in order to maintain the privilege of paying to cover her under my group plan.

In fact, many Americans are getting married for the tax breaks or for the health insurance coverage, and health insurance is also a contentious issue in many divorce cases.

The last time I checked, neither the IRS nor any health insurance company signed on to a marriage license. So they should not be factors in whether someone enters into or breaks a marriage contract. Instead, they make a separate agreement with the couple as opposed to each spouse separately (I guess that two become one really means something in the eyes of the law).

Some might argue that this is our society’s way of giving people incentives to keep their families together. But at that point a marriage can become a technicality or a loophole instead of a real commitment. After all, are taxes and health insurance really the right reasons to say “I do?”