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Marriage Law Overview

Marriage Law Overview

Your wedding day is approaching and the days leading up to the occasion are filled with excitement and anxiety. Before you tie the knot, you should be fully aware of the emotional commitment you are making, as well as, the legal and financial consequences of your decision to marry.

The laws governing marriage vary from state to state. Nevertheless, here is a general overview of what these laws are across the country, as well as, their legal and financial implications:

The legal requirements for marriage

Before you can marry, you and your partner must obtain a marriage license authorizing you to get married in your state. This can be accomplished by making a visit to your local city hall or municipal office in the city or county where you will be getting married.

In order to obtain a marriage license, you will have to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Show proof that you are divorced or widowed: If this is not your first marriage, you will need to prove that you are legally divorced from your previous spouse or that he or she has died. To do so, you will need to provide evidence such as a copy of your divorce decree or your deceased spouse’s death certificate.
  • Meet the age requirement: In the majority of states, both parties must be at least 18 years old to marry. Exceptions include Nebraska (where you must be 19 years old) and Mississippi (where you must be 21). If either of you is under 18 years of age, you will need both written consent from your parents or legal guardians and the consent of the court.
  • Have blood tests taken: While increasingly out of the ordinary, a few states still require couples to have blood tests taken before they can get married.

Change in your marital status

After or during your wedding reception, and in the presence of at least one witness, you must sign a marriage certificate. Thereafter, you will be able to list yourself as married on legal, government, and financial documents.

A change in your marital status will come with a number of advantages, such as being entitled to be named as a beneficiary or dependent on your spouse’s healthcare, retirement, and life insurance plans, and to enjoy his or her Social Security and disability benefits. In addition, you will then be eligible for certain tax benefits and to file a joint tax return with your spouse.

Changing your name

After you are married, you can decide to take your spouse’s name, keep your own, or come up with a creative alternative. However, in most case, there will be no legal consequence should you choose to leave your name as it is.

If you desire to change your name, you should know that it does not happen automatically. Instead, you will need to contact all government agencies that have your name on file and update your Social Security card, driver’s license, insurance policies, financial accounts, etc.

Last but not the least, you will need to let others, such as your landlord, employer, school, post office, attorney, accountant, and doctors know that you have a new surname.

Responsibility for children from previous relationships

New spouses have no the legal responsibility for the support of their partner’s children from previous relationships. This responsibility lies solely with the biological parents.

On the other hand, if you decide to adopt your spouse’s children from a previous relationship, assuming that the other parent has relinquished their parental rights, you would then become the children’s legal guardian and thereby legally obliged to support and care for them.

Sharing your finances

After you are married, you and your spouse will accumulate and share assets referred to as marital property. This will include items such as:

  • Your bank accounts
  • Home
  • Car
  • Jewelry
  • Furniture
  • Debts

Typically, any property acquired by either spouse before you got married will be considered separate property and, with the exception of gifts and inheritance, any property acquired after you got married and before you separate will be considered marital property and subject to division during divorce or separation.

When you divorce or legally separate, your marital property will be split between the two of you on an equitable basis, unless other arrangements have been specified. If one of you dies during the marriage, the surviving spouse will inherit all, or a portion of the marital property unless otherwise specified and depending on whether or not there are children involved.

Prenuptial agreements

To protect your assets during and after the marriage, a  prenuptial agreement can be used to specify:

  • How you will share property and finances during your marriage.
  • How assets and liabilities will be allocated if you divorce or separate.
  • What happens to one spouse’s estate if he or she happens to die during the marriage.
  • Any spousal support to be paid following divorce or separation.

States vary with regards to what issues a prenuptial agreement may address. The majority of states will not enforce a prenuptial agreement if it adversely affects child support, or if it was drafted fraudulently, under duress, or unfairly.

Many states adhere to the Uniform Prenuptial Agreement Act, which suggests how a prenuptial agreement should address the ownership of property during the course of the marriage, and how it ought to be allocated during divorce, separation, or upon the death of a spouse.

Contact an experienced family law attorney

Marriage is essentially a legal contract between two people who wish to live their lives together. It is, therefore, vital that you comprehend the legal and financial implications of marriage, with regards to your property and finances and what will happen to them should you divorce, separate, or when you or your spouse dies during the marriage.

For a better understanding of the laws governing marriage in the state in which you plan to marry, contact a local family law attorney for information and guidance.

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