Marriage is a voluntary, private contract between a man and a woman. While it is a personal and emotional commitment, it is also a legal relationship that changes the legal status of both parties. The legal technicalities of marriage are best understood with the help of an experienced family law attorney.
The legal rights and obligations associated with marriage have evolved with our society and today are equitable between both parties. Each state has its own rules about marriage, but there are some uniform principles, including:
There are several legal benefits to being married. There are both Federal and state laws available only to married people. Other benefits include social insurance benefits, inheritance rights, property rights, the ability to sue third parties for the wrongful death of your spouse or loss of consortium, medical decision making and many more.
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 of time.” No state defines 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.
Only thirteen states recognize common law marriages:
Couples who are considering marriage or living together may benefit from talking to an experienced family law attorney about the advantages of a premarital (also called prenuptial or antenuptial) or cohabitation agreement. Although not very romantic, premarital agreements are an effective tool for defining the legal relationships between two people, particularly as it relates to property. Generally, the intent of the agreement is to create a framework for handling money and property issues during the marriage or relationship and a roadmap for property division should the relationship eventually terminate.
Each state has its own laws about what can be included in a premarital agreement. Most states will not uphold agreements about child support and will not uphold an agreement that was created fraudulently or unfairly. Eighteen states have adopted the Uniform Pre-Marital Agreement Act. The law dictates how premarital agreements should address property ownership, control and management during the marriage and how property should be divided upon separation, divorce or death. The states that have adopted the law are:
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 status. 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 together, consulting an experienced family law attorney can help identify any future issues that you need to resolve now to keep you and your beloved on the path of matrimonial or relationship bliss.
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