Dear Margo: I Vote for Symbolism

Margo Howard’s advice

I Vote for Symbolism

Dear Margo: I don’t know what to do. Last December, my boyfriend proposed to me. We planned a small, simple wedding to take place in the early fall. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found out I am pregnant. While we are happy, it suddenly changed everything.

Legally marrying is going to hurt us financially right now, and we have to consider the baby and how to best provide for it. It’s too late to call off the wedding, and after much discussion we decided we don’t care if the government acknowledges us as married. We would rather be married in the eyes of our friends and family.

We still want to go through with the ceremony — but not tell people about the non-legal aspect. Our parents are the only ones who know. We aren’t registering or asking for gifts. When people ask what we want, we tell them we just want everyone to have a good time. We felt this way even before the baby came into the picture. Is this wrong of us? We plan to go quietly to the courthouse as soon as the situation changes enough to make it reasonable to be legally married. Are we wrong? — Faux Bride

Dear Faux: These days, there is no “wrong” when it comes to tying the knot and having babies. There are shotgun weddings, babies without weddings, weddings that are really parties, parties that are really weddings and white bridal gowns that accommodate a pregnant belly. Whoever thought the day would come when people would decide to marry only when their children made the request? It’s the commitment that counts, and your concern for finances makes your decision the smart thing to do. Happy non-marriage and happy baby to you both. — Margo, festively

A Weighty Question

Dear Margo: I am in college, and my longtime girlfriend decided to take a gap year. She is finally coming home after not having seen each other for a year. It was our decision to Skype only occasionally; thus, she has not had a chance to see the 20 pounds I gained this year.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, but she lost her father to a coronary due to weigh-related issues. This, understandably, made her super health-conscious about herself and me. Because of this, I don’t know how to break the news to her. Should I tell her before I see her or try to explain myself after the fact? I love her, and I know she loves me. I certainly don’t want to lose her because I’ve been careless about my health this year, nor do I want to seem like I’ve totally disregarded her lifestyle choices. How shall I proceed? — “Henry” (not my name)

Dear Hen: If I were you, I would not resort to any kind of advance warning system. That would simply cloud the homecoming and build up a negative vibe. It would not be good to email something like, “It will be so great to see you. And by the way, don’t faint, but I might remind you a little of the Pillsbury doughboy.”

I would suggest, probably at the moment you see her eyes widen at the sight of you, that you say you missed her so much that you were acting out in the bakery department, but you’ve already started a program to drop those 20 pounds. So start — right now! — getting a handle on the situation by working out or joining Weight Watchers or whatever will get you back on the road to healthy eating. — Margo, speedily

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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76 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Amanda ECW says:

    A marriage license is usually around $50. The fee to get the marriage done at the courthouse is usually around $150. You can’t afford $200, yet you can afford to have a reception?

    • avatar Sleepwalker says:

      I’m wondering if it’s more for tax purposes, or in terms of help they might not qualify for when the baby arrives.

    • avatar Mjit RaindancerStahl says:

      In my state, the marriage license is acquired in the last 30 days before the wedding. She’s had plenty of time to plunk down deposits on everything else.

      Mazel Tov, LW#1. Best wishes for a happy, healthy Family.

    • avatar burdlysc says:

      “Legally marrying is going to hurt us financially right now” I take that to mean it is not the cost of the wedding but finances after the wedding.  And quite frankly the only reason I can think of where getting married would hurt someone financially is in getting government assistance.  Qualifying for collage loans could also be a reason but  seeing as they were going to get legally married before the pregnancy I do not think that is the reason. 

      • avatar wendykh says:

        Some insurance programs do this as well.

      • avatar elizabeth101878 says:

        Actually, getting married has more financial benefits than remaining single. Once I married, and especially once I had children, I found that I qualified for Pell grants and other financial assistance, because I was considered an independent student. I’m not sure exactly why it is that they can afford the party but not the legal part to actually wed.

    • avatar persey78 says:

      My credit is shot and my BF’s job requires a good credit score. We will not jeopordize his employment for any reason. Now we don’t plan on getting married EVER for many reasons but if we did, we wouldn’t until I have my credit score up and that will take years.

      Now if she is doing it for government assistance that is not acceptable.

      • avatar Rustie says:

        Persey 78 What state do you live in?  Your credit score is yours and yours alone. Married couples do not share a credit score.  Your BF’s credit score is his alone. His job cannot discriminate against him in any form or fashion beacause of your credit score.  A lot of married couples, including myself and my spouse, have individual accounts and individual credit. Not wnating to be married is one thing, but no being married because of being misinformed is another.

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          In community property states, credit scores are shared after marriage, as are debts. You are not responsible for any debts incurred before marriage by your partner, nor are their assets accrued before marriage, or yours, community property.

          In other words, here in Texas, if your spouse maxes out credit cards you got after marriage, and defaults, even without your knowledge, the debt is yours, and so is the blow to your credit score. The same applies if he does this with HIS credit cards that he got after marrying you. Been there with an irresponsible spouse, done that, also worked in debt collection.

          It all depends on the state you live in. I know California was once just as bad, and Louisiana is community property.

          • avatar Kathleen Hein says:

            I live in California, a Community Property State. My lousy credit score does not effect my husband’s good one. Period. I know this from experience.

            And I always think lying to people is wrong. LW1 knows full well that’s what she’s doing, because everyone WILL think she’s been married, legally. And she knows that “we just want you to have a good time” will mean big fat checks. Being married only improves your finances if you are looking for gov’t assistance, and I really wish they’d stop handing out that assistance to people who are living with their baby daddy- it’s supposed to be for people who really need it, not those who want to live a better lifestyle than they can afford!

          • avatar fallinginplace says:

            @Brianna: You’re confusing credit scores with debts for which you have legal responsibility. If the credit card is held jointly, then its payment history affects both parties. But credit held in your spouse’s name does not affect your credit score. Marital property laws only come into play if you get divorced, not while you’re married. I know this from both personal experience and legal training. –A Texas lawyer

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            No, because we went through that, and both our credit scores took a hit. Of course, that was ten years ago, and I know the laws have changed, and we don’t have any plans to give it a try just to find out, if you know what I mean. I know that when I got divorced the first time, I had a lot of trouble A) getting any credit in my name because of HIS bad credit (and yes, I had my own cards) score, and B): that during our bankruptcy (with my current husband) my and his personal credit cards were paid, but did not help either of our credit scores, which were identical, even though we each had separate credit cards.
            I do know laws have changed, but I have had personal experience with this, and used a lawyer, too.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Briana is correct about sharing credit scores—a friend of mine just had the same problem with her husband’s affecting her own in the purchase of a house. And even if the credit score isn’t shared in the case of an unmarried couple—it might as well be at certain times. My partner and I had to apply jointly for an apartment because we were both going to live there. His credit sucked, mine was great. He had a job, I’m a student. The only thing that got us the apartment was that the manager was gay and liked both of us and met us personally. Otherwise we would have been rejected.

        • avatar persey78 says:

          Yeah I get that, companies can also not ask a woman if she is pregnant but they do anyways. We want nothing to jeopardize his employment, so even the chance of it is enough. We also could move to any state so if the laws are different we don’t want to be caught off guard.

    • avatar aud-ball says:

      it’s called the marriage tax penalty.. they will pay more out in taxes… a lot more…..cost of their deductions for medical insurance will increase… in some cases getting married is financial suicide.

  2. avatar Constance Plank says:

    I’ve read #1 differently than the rest of you. When my ex and I got married, the serious part of it in terms of government was the license, and then the justice of the peace, or the minister. My take on this letter is that, since there are serious tax implications by being married, that they’d go ahead with the church wedding, and eventually get married according to the law.

    After all, the legal wedding is all that matters, tax-wise.


    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA who actually gets marrying in the sight of God, but not in the sight of the Gov.

  3. avatar devenvasko says:

    State Laws should be double checked! Some states have common law marriages. All they have to do is call themselves married & they are legally married. A room full of witnesses would do it.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      The only reason I can think of were the LW can not afford it being legally married is-if she is married, it will be harder to get WELFARE, MEDICAID AND FOOD STAMPS… Social Services demand to know who the father is, and they will test. If you do not supply them with possible naes, I believe, but don’t quote me, your ‘payouts’ are reduced or cut. Reg. Health insurance-If you are married, you can still just take a single plan with your employer-it will be changed to mother/child when you give birth. I know a few women, men who have single plans despite being married.. due to both having health care plans and the their contributions are too high.

      BUT-what is shameful is this lying to guests and their PARENTS LYING along with them. 1st of all, if this has to do with welfare, food stamps, the parents are helping to lie so THEY WILL NOT BE HIT UP FOR AS MUCH MONEY FROM THEIR KIDS… But, if this is about welfare, medicaid, etc. social services will ask the lw if she is with the father and if she says no,, she is committing FRAUD. If they go and investigate where she lives and her parents say she is here by herself, they are committing fraud. Even if either set of parents does not lie-they are still helping to commit fraud.. just to save money or not to spend money… GREAT WAY TO START OFF A NEW LIFE!!!! 

      As for gay couples, they were not allowed to be legally married until a few years ago in a number of states and they still can’t be married in alot of states… and this IS NOT A QUESTION ABOUT GAY COUPLES AND MARRIAGE-unless anyone here knows of a way for gay couples to have one accidently get pregnant. 

      The thing is, Marriage is a beginning , a fresh start. and this LW is starting off with a lie. possibly fraud and bringing a baby into it. sad, very sad          

  4. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    “Legally marrying is going to hurt us financially right now.” Yeah – right. The license doesn’t cost that much relative to a wedding so we all know what this means. Are you wrong? YES – you are wrong. You’re making a choice to stay legally single so that you can sponge more money off the government even though in every respect you will be a married household. If you can’t afford a child, you shouldn’t be having a child.

    • avatar Deborah Key says:

      Are you suggesting she become “unpregnant”? 

      • avatar Jennifer juniper says:

        I wasn’t but I’m not sure what your question is getting at. She could have an abortion – that choice is legal, unlike a choice to commit welfare fraud.

        • avatar Pinky35 says:

          I seriously doubt she would get an abortion because she loves the man she is with and even though the pregnancy wasn’t planned, a baby could be a pretty important part of her life. I also doubt she is concerned about how much it costs to get a marriage license. She is probably doing this because of tax purposes. You get a larger tax deduction for being “head of household” than if you file married. A “head of household” is when you are a single parent. So, maybe this is why she doesn’t want to make it legal at this time. She also does say that in time they will get legally married. So, let her do what she wants. She doesn’t have to tell anyone about it because in everyone’s eyes, they are still just as committed to each other and now will be bonded with a baby. Give her a break.

    • avatar chuck alien says:

      Hence the “what’s best for the child” she throws in there.

      It’s not welfare fraud… She’s not married. That’s it. Legally married is all that counts, by the government’s own rules… And she’s not. So no fraud.

      She’s following the rules, and taking better care of her baby. Why be mad about that?

      • avatar butterfly55 says:

        It is welfare fraud if they are collecting it but living together, even thought not married.  That is the most obvious type of the fraud.

        • avatar Bookworm says:

          I originally asked the question and am somewhat shocked and hurt that everyone assumes that the only reasons I could have would be to “sponge off the government” or commit some kind of fraud. I guess I never realized how common it was for people to do that.
          Although even with our combined incomes, were we married, we would normally qualify for government assistance including WIC, insurance and food stamps, we are getting none of these and my child will not be supported by any of those government programs. But being able to afford the child on our own without assistance means that we can’t legally get married.

          • avatar Amy says:

            I’m still confused, Book. You don’t say this is for tax purposes, but unless both you and your fiancee make close to minimum wage, I can’t imagine how you A) would qualify for welfare even WITH your combined incomes, and B) how moving up a tax bracket would suddenly make it impossible for you to raise your kid.

            You also never said if you were using birth control or not when you became pregnant. I’ll save my judgment until that becomes more clear.

          • avatar toni says:

            Dear Bookworm, so sorry your letter set off such a firestorm of discussion (and criticism) that had nothing to do w your circumstances. Enjoy your day of commitment, and congrats on your new baby!

        • avatar persey78 says:

          Being I worked for my local DHHR you are wrong in my state. When they were asked the question many applicants were nervous about answering it, but they couldn’t lie and they got the same services living with someone. I think, and I never asked so this is a guess, that the states interest is the child. And something happens the state can still take care of the child. The child is the only thing that is important.

  5. avatar Donna Sampson says:

    The financial issues may have something to do with insurance instead of taxes. Possibly, she has been on her parents insurance plan and planned on changing to his once they were married, but since she is now pregnant, his company may deem it as a preexisting condition and not cover her pregnancy. I feel it has nothing to do with the cost of license since she had already planned on getting the license.

    • avatar Cady McCowin says:

      That’s not quite how pre-existing condition waiting periods work. You are subject to pre-ex if you have had NO insurance within the three months prior to obtaining a new policy. If you switch from one policy to another, you only have to show the current insurer that you were previously insured under another plan, and that negates pre-ex waiting periods. Additionally, many insurance companies do not consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition. If this is an insurance issue, the couple should make sure they understand their current and future coverage options before deciding not to get married just because of that.

    • avatar Megan Freedman says:

      Actually, even if she was on her parents plan, no plan covers dependents of dependents. The pregnancy and the baby would be non-covered due to the fact that she’s not the covered employee, but rather a dependent.
      As long as she has HAD insurance, she would not have Pre-x on his plan due to change in life status. Also, the birth would be covered because there is no pre-x exclusions allowed on anyone under 19.

      <—Insurance Agent, 15 years

    • avatar persey78 says:

      When I was pregnant 13 years ago pregnancy was not considered a preexisting condition.

  6. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re LW#1:  I at first thought the *financial* reasons had to do with taxes but it  doesn’t sound like the couple make enough money to worry about tax consequences.   I gather they have found a friend who will pretend to be a licensed officiant as I’m thinking that it might be difficult to find a real minister or judge (or any other person with the authority vested in him/her by the state to marry them) to participate in the charade.  I suppose health insurance might be one financial reason but then if they are so destitute there is always Medicaide.   It really doesn’t matter to me what they do.   If I were a guest at their wedding (giving a gift or not) and later discovered the ruse I might feel a little used but I am not. 

    Re LW#2: Twenty pounds is not the end of the world but Margo’s advice to start a weight loss regimen before your girlfriend gets home is sound.  Typically men lose weight more quickly than women (I assume you are a man because you used a male name).  A sound weight loss regimen should have those 20 lbs off in a couple of months or so.       

    • avatar martina says:

      Actually, I believe that our pastor would paticipate in that “charade” and would marry the couple in the eyes of God but not legally.  I believe that he would find it more important to marry them in the eyes of God and not in the eyes of the Government.  He has performed a few same sex marriage ceremonies even though they are not recognized in our state.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      It is not a charade anymore than performing a religious wedding for two gay people in a state where that’s not legally recognized is a charade. It is also not a ruse or a fraud. We really need to stop this notion that the only valid marriage is one recognized by the government. What a scam. Legally marrying is simply registering your lover with the state. It would be best to have government out of the marriage business entirely. The important part is actually the marriage and wedding, not the legal contract. There are hundereds of thousands of not legally registered marriages out there more than valid. Stop buying into this government control of the marriage industry.

      And I can’t believe this guy is freaking over 20lbs. I hope she shows up with an extra 30. Unless he’s got a bird frame and is under 5’6″ it probably won’t even be noticable.

      • avatar LuckySeven says:

        The only legally valid marriage should be the one registered by the government, and registering it is as far as the government should go. People who want to be married by a church only should be able to do so, but forego any legal benefits marriage might incur. It’s religion who should give up control of the “marriage industry” (and it does, or legalizing gay marriage would have happened already because the pious religious nonsense could be overlooked). Marriage was historically a legal and financial contract, anyway; this “love” bit is a recent luxury.

  7. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – “Henry” the right thing to do is to tell her now in advance of seeing her that you have put on 20 pounds. It’s not like you said you put on 200 pounds, you put on 20 pounds. My first suggestion to you is to be gentle with yourself over that relatively small weight gain.

    Where I do agree with Margo is you need to start taking it off