Tips for Marriage

Getting married is probably the largest decision you'll ever make and affects every area of your life. Along with the benefits and rights of marriage come legal and financial obligations, so make sure you are prepared when it comes time to tie the knot. Here are some tips to help ensure that the transition into married life goes as smoothly as possible.

The Definition of Marriage

Marriage is the legal union of two people as recognized by the state. It is usually accompanied by a license and ceremony. It may not sound romantic, but marriage is essentially a legal contract between two people.

In the U.S., most states require that the couple be of opposite sexes, but some states now allow same-sex marriage. A few states also allow something referred to as a "common law" marriage, which is created when two people live together for a period of time, hold themselves out as married, and intend to be married.

Consider a Prenuptial Agreement

Before you take the plunge, you should strongly consider getting a prenuptial agreement. This is one of the most important marriage tips there is.

There's a lot of popular myth about what a prenuptial agreement is and who uses them. While wealthy individuals do often use prenuptials, a prenuptial has far more uses than simply protecting the assets of a wealthy individual. Prenuptials can be used to:

  • Protect the wealth of one party
  • Protect a party from assuming the debts of the other party
  • Determine how property will be distributed upon death (especially important if you have children from another marriage and wish the property to pass to them, not your spouse)
  • Clarify financial rights and responsibilities during a marriage
  • Avoid long, costly disputes in the event of a divorce

If You Don't Get a Prenuptial Agreement

Absent a prenuptial, your state has a series of laws that determine how property is handled during marriage and after marriage. In most states, for instance, your spouse is entitled to:

  • Share and receive ownership of property acquired during the marriage
  • Receive some of your property upon death
  • Share in any debts acquired during the marriage
  • Share responsibilities in managing property acquired during the marriage

There many good reasons to deviate from your state's laws. For instance, if you have children from a previous marriage, you may want your property to pass to your children rather than transfer to your current spouse upon your death. The advantage of a prenuptial agreement is that you can craft it to meet your particular needs.

Marriage Requirements

When it comes time to formally get married, make sure that your marriage complies with your state's law on the subject. Things to find out about your state's marriage laws include:

  • Do I need a marriage certificate?
  • Are there any legal requirements I need to satisfy before getting married?
  • Who can legally perform the marriage ceremony?
  • Does my state require any blood tests or other testing before getting married?
  • Does my state require any counseling before getting married?

The Rights and Benefits of Marriage

You may be getting married because you're in love, but it doesn't hurt that marriage also has a lot of perks that come with it. States have built-in incentives to ensure that couples want to get married. Some of those incentives include:

  • Tax benefits when filing jointly
  • Government benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and disability benefits
  • Employment benefits such as health care and medical leave
  • Estate benefits, including inheritance rights
  • Authority to make decisions that affect both individuals in the marriage, such as medical decisions
  • Financial support from your spouse in case of divorce

Make a Financial Plan

Money continues to be the number one cause for divorce in the U.S. In order to avoid marriage money problems, it pays to sit down and have a serious financial conversation with your new partner. It may not be pretty or exciting, but it's something that needs to be done or you may end up literally paying for it down the road.

While there are more topics than can possibly be covered in any one article, consider the following questions when setting expectations for your financial future with your partner:

  • What should your money be spent on - what's essential and what's discretionary
  • What are the shared expenses, and what are the expenses that each individual is supposed to account for
  • Which accounts should be made joint accounts, and which accounts should be kept separate
  • If there is a disparity in income, who should be contributing to what and how much
  • How are debts that come into the marriage going to be handled
  • Who is actually sitting down and paying the bills

Set goals that you will need to save for, and state how long you think it should take to save for them. Constantly revisit this topic, as your expectations and circumstances will change over time. Some basic topics to consider include:

  • Will you be buying a house
  • Will you be having kids
  • Will you be saving for college for any potential kids
  • When do you expect to retire
  • How often would you like to travel
  • Will you be modeling or redecorating at any point
  • Will you be buying cars

After the Wedding

There's a surprising amount of work to be done after the marriage and honeymoon. Depending on what you and your spouse have decided, consider:

  • Changing your legal name
  • Updating your estate documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, etc.
  • Adding your spouse as a beneficiary to your financial accounts, such as bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement plans, etc.
  • Adding your spouse to your health insurance policy
  • Adopting a child from your spouse's previous marriage

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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