Marriage & Prenuptial Planning

Marriage is a voluntary, private contract between two adults. While it is a personal and emotional commitment, it is also a legal relationship that changes the legal status of both parties. A family law attorney at our firm can help you to understand the legal technicalities of marriage.

The legal rights and obligations associated with marriage have evolved with our society and today are the same for both spouses. Each state has its own rules about marriage, but there are some uniform principles, including:

  • Who Can Marry Whom. Each state prohibits marriage between brothers and sisters, parent and child, and some prohibit marriage between aunt or uncle and niece or nephew. Most states will not issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
  • Age Requirements. Each state has a minimum age requirement, typically 18 years. Many states permit marriage at a younger age if parental consent is given.
  • Residency. Most states require one or both of the parties to reside in the state for a specific period of time before issuing a marriage license.
  • Medical Exam and Licensing. Some states require the completion of a medical exam and blood test before issuing a marriage license. The blood test screens for venereal diseases, rubella, sickle cell anemia, AIDS, and other diseases. The marriage license must be issued by a designated public official.
  • Ceremony and Officials. Some states require a formal ceremony of some kind with witnesses and a licensed public or religious official.

There are several legal benefits to marriage. There are both federal and state laws available only to married people. Other benefits include Social Security benefits, inheritance rights, property rights, the ability to sue third parties for the wrongful death of a spouse or loss of consortium, and the right to make medical decisions on a spouse’s behalf.

Common Law Marriage

Many couples believe they will achieve a common law marriage and be entitled to the legal benefits and obligations of married couples if they live together for a significant period of time. It is not quite that simple. Each state defines the requirements that must be met to legally qualify as married. Generally, a common law marriage is recognized when a heterosexual couple lives together in a common law marriage state for a significant period. Among the states that recognize common law marriage, none define the time period, but typically a ten-year-old relationship is required. The couple must also have the intent to be married, which is generally measured by whether or not the couple presents themselves to the public as a married couple. Evidence of the necessary intent includes sharing the same last name, filing joint tax returns, and referring to each other as husband or wife.

Prenuptial, Postnuptial and Partnership Planning

A prenuptial agreement doesn’t seem very romantic. It is difficult to talk about—and can even be somewhat emotional. However, for most folks who are contemplating marriage, it is essential. Many marriages and committed relationships end in divorce, without a happily-ever-after. That is the unfortunate reality.

A prenuptial agreement is just plain practical. Going into the partnership, it also shows consideration and responsibility for the partner and for oneself. It shows consideration because it can spare a couple the messier and emotional aspects of divorce – the division of property and issues of support. It also can serve as an operating agreement during the marriage to help govern the handling of finances. Further, it shows responsibility for many aspects of life together, including the protection of children who came from prior relationships, protection of inheritance funds, protection of prior separate assets, and, most importantly, protection of one’s financial independence. Marriage is not just an emotional commitment, but a legal one — why not legally spell out the financial obligations in advance?

Contact our office to learn how we can help with your prenuptial planning needs.

Conclusion

Getting married is one of the most important things people do. Hopefully, it reflects a deep emotional commitment because it also truly changes the participants’ legal statuses. By understanding your rights and obligations as a married person you may more fully appreciate the step you are taking. Before you marry or move in with your partner, consult a family law attorney at our firm to identify any future issues that you need to resolve now to keep you and your beloved on the path of matrimonial or relationship bliss.


DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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