True Story: I Secretly Got Married For Health Insurance

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of Sarah and her ‘secret,’ preemptive wedding to get health insurance

 

Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Sarah, and although I currently live in WI, I grew up in a small farm town in MI. I’m 25 years old and I currently work in marketing for a candy company. In my spare time, I love hanging out with friends, taking dance classes and spending time outdoors before winter hits!How did you meet your husband?
I know it sounds crazy, but we actually met in elementary school – we grew up in the same small town, although we didn’t start dating until he was out of high school (he’s two years older than me). We were in similar social circles growing up, but I didn’t know him as more than an acquaintance until some mutual friends set us up during my senior year of high school.

How did you come up with this idea?
My husband and I relocated to WI about two years ago, and the move meant leaving the low-income health insurance program that he’d previously been covered under in MI. He’s a bouncer, so he’s never been offered coverage by an employer. When we realized he’d be without coverage, we ran the numbers and found out that it would be about $300+/month to get him decent insurance – which we definitely didn’t have!

At that point, we’d already been together for about 5 years, and getting married was definitely in the plans for both of us. The only thing that was keeping us from doing it was that I wanted to have a traditional wedding and we didn’t have the money to do it at that point.

How did your ‘husband’ react when you approached him with your idea?
Honestly, he was on board with it a long time before I was. We’d talked about it jokingly for awhile, and we had some friends that had done the same thing, so it wasn’t really a new idea for us. But while he comes from a very non-traditional family, my upbringing was a lot more conventional, so it took me some time to warm up to the idea.

Tell us about the ‘wedding’!
Well, for the “real” wedding, we met two of our close friends and the judge at an art museum in our city, and did the ceremony on the top of a 3-story glass staircase. It was quick, but nice – afterwards, we went out for sandwiches and then my husband went to work later that night.
About a month ago, we had our “fake” wedding, where we did a traditional ceremony and reception with about 100 guests. We did the whole thing – I wore a white dress, he was in a tux, plus we had the full bridal party, DJ, caterer, photographer , etc. that you’re supposed to have at a wedding.

Really, both weddings were very meaningful for me, but for different reasons. At the “real” wedding, it was nice to feel like we were getting married for ourselves – like we weren’t wrapped up in the whole “wedding fever” thing that seems to take over some couples and make them forget that the marriage is what’s important, not the wedding itself. At the “fake” wedding, it was great to have that recognition of our relationship from all of our friends and family members and to be able to celebrate with them. I actually feel very fortunate to have been able to experience both aspects of the wedding process.

What were the logistics surrounding this?
In our city, you have to apply for the marriage license about a week before it can be issued, so we had to go down to the City Records office to apply ahead of time. At the “real” wedding, our friends signed as witnesses and then the judge filed the license – just like what would happen at any wedding in the city. We do file joint taxes, we’ve changed our W-4s and done pretty much all the other legal stuff you’re supposed to do when you get married – just a lot sooner than most of our family members know about.

I did wait to change my name until after the “fake” wedding, and I’m still going through that process. What a pain in the butt!

How much money do you save doing this?
If we hadn’t gone on to have a full wedding, we would have saved a pretty huge amount of money. There were some expenses for the “real” wedding – there are fees to get your marriage license, a fee for the judge to come perform the ceremony, plus the cost of the rings. But overall, we spent under $1,000 – and about half of that was just to buy this ring that my husband absolutely loved.

Do any of your friends or family know about this?
Some do and some don’t. Because we live about six hours away from all of our extended family (seriously, they’re ALL within a 2 hour radius of the town we grew up in), there wasn’t a lot of risk of them overhearing anything or running into someone who knew. All of our friends in WI know, plus a few friends from our hometown – which made the “fake” wedding a little nerve-wracking. I was definitely nervous that one of our WI friends would drink a little too much at the reception and give it away!

Could you get in trouble legally if his employers found out?
Legally, we’re fine, since it was always our intention to get – and remain – married. His employers don’t have an issue with it, since they don’t offer health insurance in the first place. I was initially concerned that mine would, since we pretty much got married to take advantage of that specific benefit, but it wound up not being a problem. I’m not sure if there are any insurance fraud issues that could pop up for total strangers getting married, so it’s worth a check beforehand if anyone is thinking of doing that.

Do you have to do anything to maintain the facade?
Because we’re an actual couple, we didn’t have to pretend to be into each other when we really weren’t, but we did have to be careful about certain things to keep our families from finding out. Like, if we were going home for a holiday, we’d both take our rings off a few weeks ahead of time to get rid of the indentations they leave and so that we weren’t constantly fidgeting with our fingers. We also practiced calling each other “my boyfriend/girlfriend” (and later “my fiancé” after we announced our “engagement”) before going home, because we were both so used to calling each other “my wife/my husband”.

Have you ever felt any guilt about doing this?
It was hard not to tell my mom and sister, because we’re all very close. They both would have been fine with what we did, but we decided right off the bat that it would be easier to keep things straight if we set a blanket, “no family knows” policy. Plus, I wanted them to both have the full, exciting experience of being the maid of honor/mother of the bride, which they both loved.

I did feel some guilt about lying to them, but ultimately, I feel like we made the best possible decisions for us as a couple. It’s not a path I’d recommend to everyone – and I definitely don’t advocate strangers getting married for the benefits – but it’s worked out well for us.

Would any of you ever get married for insurance purposes? Any questions for Sarah?

14 Comments

elizabeth

Congrats on the recent nuptials!

I did a very similar thing recently, so it was really interesting to read this post. I got engaged last August and then got married legally in December because I needed my guy's insurance. I couldn't wait until after our planned June wedding because I was having some health issues.

We didn't want any of our friends or family to find out, so we hired witnesses off of craigslist and went to the magistrate's office on a Thursday. They are the only ones that know except our bosses and a few co-workers. We didn't exchange rings or call each other husband/wife until what we called our "fo-real wedding" which was a few weeks ago. The wedding with the dress and caterers felt a lot more real than our legal ceremony because it was a celebration of our love with all of the important people in our lives.

I joined the offbeat bride website and, at least with those lovely ladies, this isn't as uncommon as I originally thought.

Reply
iris

Nice post, I'd just like to point out that things like DJs, "that you’re supposed to have at a wedding"…are not necessary, if you don't want them!

You can nudge the Wedding Industrial Complex aside a bit…A Practical Wedding might be worth a read for others interested (or maybe you'd even like to write up your story there?)

Reply
Marie

How much time was there between the weddings?

I'm kind of surprised this could be a legal problem if the couple is already living together and planned to get married anyway, as opposed to total strangers doing it dishonestly. No law says there has to be a big, fancy, "real" ceremony. Some people do just go to the courthouse and consider it done. Guess I'm ignorant of health insurance laws!

Interesting story, thanks for sharing. Great series!

Reply
Sarah Von Bargen

Marie,

I think it was 'secret' in the sense that most of Sarah's family didn't know that she had gotten married and she got married earlier than planned so she could get the benefits. Not so much illegal as maybe a little dicey from family's perspective?

Reply
Jenny

I got married for financial aid and then stopped going to school. Seems silly, for sure, especially now that I'm in the process of maxing out student loans. We didn't announce anything to anyone, but on the way to our justice of the peace appointment (in between classes) we ran into his sister and let her know. Our witnesses were found in the parking lot on the way off campus ("you got a half-hour to kill?"). She kept the info to herself, and his parents found out a few weeks later in casual conversation… neither of us thought we'd marry, ever – but we've been married almost 10 years now.

Great story! I wish health insurance was part of my deal! 🙂

Reply
positdesign

My boyfriend and I got gay-married for health insurance! Our three-year "wedding" anniversary is coming up next February.

We'd been dating for over two years at that point, and living together six months (the minimum to establish a "domestic partnership" in Massachusetts).

Similar situation as Sarah: he was working in a restaurant and I had gold-plated insurance through my office job. When I thought about his workplace risks (fire, water, germs, blades, chemicals, heavy lifting, etc.) and the fact that he wouldn't get any paid sick time if he broke a leg, getting him insured felt very important.

Neither of us love the idea of marriage and we are both 100% turned off by the idea of weddings. If we wanted kids (and we don't), we'd likely get married–but it would be an elopement.

So we used a law that allows gay partners to share health insurance coverage, went to city hall, and signed a piece of paper that said we were living in a "relationship of mutual support." We're both pretty left-wing, but afterwards he turned to me and observed that the process was so bureaucratic and unromantic that it made him really understand the marriage equality movement for the first time.

Reply
kelseyyyann

I always love these True Stories, Sarah (V.)!

Other Sarah, do you two celebrate anniversaries? I was just curious which wedding date you use if you do.

Thank you for sharing!

Reply
Anastasia

This is my husband and I's story exactly. We already had a kid, but I wanted my step daughter on my insurance. I originally approached him to get paperwork for a common law marriage, and my husband said if we were going to get paperwork, why not just get married. And 4 years after we got married, he made a big deal of proposing to me and giving me an engagement ring. It was good stuff.

Reply
Sara

I have a good friend who recently had a secret wedding to her long-time boyfriend so he could get citizenship. They're planning to get married for "real" next year, but his green card expired and they had to deal with it ASAP.

Reply
Sarah

@Marie – There's exactly a year and a half between the two weddings. And while I don't think there are legal issues for us, there could be for people who aren't in a relationship getting married for specific benefits (health insurance, immigration, etc). Best to look into those things first!

@kelseyyyann – Yep, we celebrate all three annivesaries: our dating anniversary, the real wedding and the fake wedding 🙂 The more the merrier!

Reply
insurance

We already had a kid, but I wanted my step daughter on my insurance. I originally approached him to get paperwork for a common law marriage, and my husband said if we were going to get paperwork, why not just get married. And 4 years after we got married, he made a big deal of proposing to me and giving me an engagement ring. It was good stuff.

Reply
jack

Hello, I think it was ‘secret’ in the sense that most of Sarah’s family didn’t know that she had gotten married and she got married earlier than planned so she could get the benefits. Not so much illegal as maybe a little dicey from family’s perspective?

Reply

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