When the subject of marriage comes up, most people think about everlasting love and a commitment to family. It’s nice to view marriage as a romantic institution, free from the legal realities of the world, but that isn’t reality. Marriage is as much a legal contract as it is a romantic one, and ignoring that aspect of it only puts you and your future spouse at risk. For this reason, we here at eLocal asked our legal professionals to help illustrate some of the reasons hiring a lawyer before getting married is a good idea. Here are some of the most common issues that a marriage lawyer can help you sort out before you tie the knot, saving you a lot of trouble in the long run.
1. Division of Property
Even if you don’t own much, getting married changes your relationship to the things you own. A married individual shares all of their property with their spouse, regardless of who put in the work to acquire those things. For some people, this is not a problem. After all, you marry your spouse in order to share your life with them, and that includes your property. For others, however, there are other interests involved. You may want to retain your personal inheritance to use it for a specific purpose, or set aside specific assets like cars or houses for children rather than your spouse after your death. Most states laws award possessions to spouses in case of your death, so these are things that need to be sorted out before you get married. Otherwise, you could discover you have a lot less control over things that are important to you than you thought you did.
2. Tax Status
Getting married comes with a lot of legal advantages, like power of attorney and access to health benefits, but it also comes with some disadvantages. For example, if you marry, your income and the income of your spouse will both be counted as income for the household, which can affect what tax bracket you are in and how much you pay in taxes. For some people this is not a problem, but for others it can be a real detriment to their financial situation. It is important that you understand how getting married is going to change your legal status, so that you are not blindsided in the future. The only person who can give you definitive answers about this is a legal professional.
3. Pre-Nuptial Agreements
You have probably heard of pre-nuptial agreements, but popular understanding of them is greatly skewed in our culture. Less than 3% of couples in America sign a pre-nuptial, partially because popular culture tells us that signing one is admitting that you think the relationship won’t work. In truth, the opposite is true: a pre-nuptial agreement forces you to consider all the legal aspects of your marriage head-on, so that you are not surprised later. It’s not about trusting your future spouse or your relationship–it’s about handling as many potential future problems as you can before they arise. Talking about finances won’t kill a strong relationship.
Law professional Dara Strickland said it best:
“Getting married is, just as it has been for thousands of years, a business agreement. Instead of choosing someone best suited to help run a subsistence farm and produce more workers as we did in the Bronze Age, we now come with cars already paid off in cash and student loan debt. It doesn’t change the equation: wrong partner = failed business. If you wouldn’t start a business with someone without an operating agreement that detailed what would happen if you could no longer run it together, why would you start a marriage without one?”
Paying attention to the legal aspects of your relationship before marring might seem unromantic, but it is also a smart decision to make both for you and your future spouse. Starting your marriage off on the same legal page can head off the big arguments about finances and property that so often destroy happy marriages.