8

I'm a recent divorcee in the U.S. and over the course of the last year I've noticed on a number of different Medical, Insurance, Social Networking and Financial entry forms that when filling out Marital Status there are often designations of both Single and Divorced for unmarried individuals.

I have done a little research on the topic and with the exception of a few empowering blogs for women, I've not seen much discussion on the subject. As far as as I'm aware, the IRS only cares how you are filing your taxes and what exemptions you take so it seems to me that the Federal government doesn't much care how identify myself as long as I'm paying my share of taxes.

I personally don't like marking my status as Divorced as I don't like the idea of identifying myself by one of the lower events in my life. But in all but the most obviously reaching situations (like joining a website or a gym) I have marked myself with the safer Divorced as I wasn't sure if categorizing myself as Single could open me to some liability (as I suppose that technically I belong in the other category).

In dealing with financial, medical, insurance and basically any other forms found in the U.S. do I have a legal responsibility to identify myself as Divorced? Or in other words, could identifying myself as Single as opposed to a divorcee incur any type of liability of which I should be aware?

Some Background

For what it is worth, I do have a child that I share with my ex in a 50/50 shared-parenting plan. But I do not pay any alimony or child support nor do I have any financial responsibilities to my ex (we ended our marriage with a dissolution).

  • There isn't one universal answer. On some forms the distinction may be material for some reason, in which case it is necessary to say "divorced". On many other forms it may not be material, and so there is no harm in saying "single". This would have to be analyzed on a case by case basis as to each form. – ohwilleke Nov 12 '18 at 18:17
  • I am married and divorced...and every now and then I go out and feel single. Personally, just 'non-dead' would suffice. – beauXjames May 15 at 14:57
2

The law itself only identifies people as Single or Married, not any other form. The government only cares about your current status and Divorced is not a current status; it is an identifier of the past - your history.

What the paranoid people will claim.

Those companies may use the data to determine the amount of your loan or credit limit, or other aspects of the services you are acquiring. If the fact that you're divorced ever does cause you or them problems, they may use the fact that you "lied" on your application as a reason to terminate your contract.

While I'm sure there are some sleazy practices out there, especially insurance companies, who might try to go this route, it will never work for them. In the eyes of the law you are single and you did not lie by saying you are single. Unless you signed a very shady contract with a very shady company that you probably should not have ever contacted in the first place, identifying as Single rather than Divorced will never hurt you.

What it is in reality.

When it comes to services as you've described, they might simply want to know. It could just be a random field that gives the person you're talking to a better idea of who you are. It could just be for their statistics on the kinds of people they serve. More than likely though, it exists because the people they are serving thought it should exist.

Seriously, there are people out there that want to give every tiny detail of their life. Some feel offended because they are "not Single or Married - I had a divorce darnit!" People's desire to feel unique on a piece of paper even when it makes absolutely no difference drives companies to include all the possibilities even when it doesn't matter - similar to including more than Male or Female in the gender field. Is that going to change your banking experience? No. But they still want to identify as such anyways. And when it comes to customer service, adding an extra line to a piece of paper is an easy way to satisfy a group of people.

  • Interesting point about "the people they are serving thought it should exist". I've always been disturbed by the "Ethnicity" field on many US forms that asks one to identify either as "Hispanic or Latino" or "Not Hispanic or Latino". There are other ethnic groups out there, and defining a group by what it is not does not an ethnicity make! Sometimes I've wished that there was a form that would allow me to tick "Ulster Scots Appalachian or Hillbilly" as an option, even if it just got rolled up at the end of the day into "Not Hispanic or Latino". – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Nov 14 '18 at 2:58
1
+50

In dealing with financial, medical, insurance and basically any other forms found in the U.S. do I have a legal responsibility to identify myself as Divorced? Or in other words, could identifying myself as Single as opposed to a divorcee incur any type of liability of which I should be aware?

Since you specified the financial and medical contexts, yes, sometimes it is mandatory to disclose that you are divorced.

Any time your signature is involved, be as accurate as the form allows. The worst consequence I can think of is actually pretty bad ("penalty of perjury" is no joke, and whether or not it should, divorce does impact a surprising number of especially financial considerations.) If possible, it would be better to simply not answer at all than to sign off on something other than the most accurate option available.

In these contexts, the designation as having been divorced is often an archaic throwback predating no-fault.

For example, divorce adversely impacts your credit (more than the loss of a partner's presumed earning power, the reasoning here is basically that marriage was a long-term commitment you entered into willingly that was not fulfilled.) Jobs or employment opportunities demanding a very high degree of personal integrity may be negatively impacted by having, or having had a divorce, by the same reasoning (the examples that pop to mind are officers the military, depending on the career field.) Divorce can be interpreted as an indication that the individual in question is currently not as stable in their personal life and affairs (moving, figuring out joint custody, jealous/vindictive ex, etc.) as a prospective lender or employer requires.

As far as healthcare is concerned, it can have an impact on health care services and how providers interact with you, your ex, etc. (for example, your child's pediatrician.) Having had a divorce can be a flag to health care provider to screen for depression, anxiety, blood pressure, and so forth; likewise, insurance companies consider divorce a "major life event" that qualifies you to change your coverage out-of-season (I don't know, but wouldn't be surprised if divorce somehow impacted your rates because of statistical increased risk of specific ailments.)

Furthermore, there can be far-reaching implications for others - how long you were married determines whether or not social security benefits are conferred to a surviving spouse, for example, or calculating your kid's FAFSA in five or ten or fifteen years.

  • None of this is true. Insurance companies group single, divorced, and widowed all into one grouple and only change premiums on single vs married (which is being contested as an unfair practice like others in that industry). The healthcare thing is frankly a personal choice and has nothing to do with law. And social security benefits have nothing to do with whether you like to identify as single vs divorced. Government forms only have single or married anyways, and you file specific forms to get benefits from a past marriage. Most noteably, selecting single would not constitute perjury. – animuson Nov 13 '18 at 15:03
0

In some cases, a divorced spouse may have beneficiary rights to pension or retirement accounts, particularly ones accumulated during the marriage. There may even be court orders confirming such rights as part of a divorce decree. This would obviously be relevant to beneficiary designations, and perhaps to other matters dealing with such funds. I don't see this as being relevant in most of the situations that the question discusses, however.

  • Whether you identify as a single or divorced/widowed does not affect this at all. Properly filing the appropriate forms to receive the benefit matters, and at that point they only care if you are currently married or not. No government form you fill out is going to have divorced/widowed as a marital status. – animuson Nov 13 '18 at 15:08

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.