The nature of relationships within marriage and dating situations is extremely varied. The term "dating" is perhaps open to greater interpretation than "marriage," as it is less constrained by religious and legal traditions. However, as modern society progresses, the concept of marriage is opening up to accommodate more contemporary notions of love and relationships. Thus, the differences between dating and marriage are not always straightforward as both categories vary widely from couple to couple.
Marriage provides legal rights to couples that are not granted to unmarried couples. Included in these marriage-based legal rights are "next of kin" rights that allow spouses to make medical decisions on behalf of their ill partner. Other marriage-based legal rights include immigration and residency rights, inheritance rights, domestic violence protection orders and the ability to have joint insurance policies. The legal rights granted to married couples varies among different countries and is subject to change as more people call for nonmarriage-biased legislature.
In most cases, marriage involves a promise of monogamy. Monogamy within dating varies more, with some dating couples choosing to remain "exclusive" and others choosing to date freely. However, some married couples engage in "open marriages" where they can explore relations with people other than their spouse. Ultimately, couples make up their own rules on monogamy. Though monogamy can exist within or outside of marriage, the promise to remain faithful is still associated more with marriage.
The idea of marriage is that of a lifelong commitment bound by love and broken only in death. The classic wedding vows include the promise to standby "for better or worse," "for richer or poorer" and in "sickness and in health" until "death do us part." Many couples who are dating each other also make promises to be together forever, but other dating couples do not. With dating, there is the option to commit, whereas marriage makes it mandatory.
When a couple who is dating breaks up, there is no official, legal procedure involved. A married couple, however, must absolve the marriage through annulment or divorce. Divorce proceedings often involve hiring a legal representative and can be a very timely and costly process depending on the nature of the breakup and the assets of each individual. However, all couples who have children, whether they are married or not, must follow legal procedures to determine who will have custody rights after a breakup.