Forms made by and for the government that concern an individual or family/household often – usually in one of the first questions – ask for the family/relationship status of the applicant. The predefined answers reflect legal statuses for tax and subsidy purposes. In Germany, for instance, there are these categories:
married “partnered” single divorced “dispartnered” widowed ^ (same-sex)
Please note, there is no option for couples living together without being formally married. (Religious weddings are not recognized by law and churches require a proof of secular marriage prior to any wedding ceremony.) I assume the situation is similar in other countries.
If you ask someone about their relationship status informally, they will probably think of single vs. couple first, then maybe mention prior statuses for the former (was married, but got divorced or spouse died) or official recognition of the latter, perhaps highlighting that the spouse has the same sex as them if that makes a legal difference. That is basically just my guesswork, but this mental model mismatches the data model behind standard questionaries.
Striving for a user-centered redesign, how should a (non-interactive) form ask for relationship status if the answers are to be mapped to legal categories as in the list above?
- One question with exactly the options occurring in relevant laws.
- One question with all possible combinations, i.e. include “unmarried couple” or the like and probably more.
- Hierarchical questions, something like this:
- Are you married?
- If yes, does your spouse have the same sex as you?
- If no, have you ever been married?
- If yes, did your spouse die or did you divorce each other?
- Something else.
PS: Let’s assume the existence of children (common, adopted, foster …) was completely irrelevant.