After the initial excitement over a proposal, you and your fiancé will likely start to plan your wedding. You hope that your marriage will last many years, and for that to happen, it is important to give it deep thought and attention. Marriage is a legal contract with a variety of serious legal and financial implications that both you and your future spouse should learn about. The best way to do this is to meet with a divorce attorney.
That might sound counterintuitive – to understand the implications of your marriage, you should talk to someone about divorce? It actually makes a lot of sense. A divorce attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities in the marriage and discuss the possible outcomes should the marriage not work out. Meeting with a lawyer before you get married allows you to understand the contract you’re entering into and gives you the time to think through exactly how you want your union to be created.
Marital Property Rights
One of the most important things an attorney can explain to you is the marital property laws that are in effect in your state. Once you get married, anything you earn or obtain during marriage actually belongs to both of you, no matter whose name is on the title, the account, the receipt, or the deed. Your lawyer can explain your state’s specific laws about this so that you can enter into marriage fully informed about the wedding transforms your assets. This can help prevent a lot of confusion during the marriage and if you should ever get a divorce.
When you vow to love and honor each other, you’re also entering into certain legal responsibilities that come with marriage. One of these is a fiduciary duty to each other. When you get married, you have a responsibility to be honest and forthright with your spouse. This means you should not lie to each other, steal from each other, or cheat each other.
Your marriage is a financial entity that you both have a duty to protect. Because your marital assets belong to both of you, it isn’t fair to give them away, gamble with them, or excessively spend them without consulting with your spouse. A lawyer can explain exactly what the laws are in your state and what your legal responsibilities to each other are so that you can abide by the law.
Although you will be spouses, that does not mean you have complete access to each other’s lives. Privacy laws still apply, and your attorney can explain your state’s specific rules about this. For example, it is illegal to record a conversation in some states unless all the parties consent to the recording. Likewise, you do not legally have the right to access your spouse’s password-protected accounts without permission. A lawyer can help you understand what privacy protections are in place and how to best navigate them – usually through open and honest communication about what you each feel comfortable with. Creating some guidelines to live by now will help prevent future problems after you are married.
Once you get married, you have a legal duty to financially support each other, even if you are both employed. A divorce attorney can explain your state’s laws in detail. In general, however, these laws mean that either spouse can bring legal action against the other during the marriage for direct spousal support payments as well as payment of bills such as rent, mortgage, utilities, health care, and more. Understanding these requirements can help prevent a surprise in the future and allow you to plan so that you both remain in stable financial positions.
Should you and your spouse have children together, it is important to discuss that now, before entering into parenthood. Your lawyer can help you understand the fact that you both have a duty to support your children financially and what that might look like should you not stay together. It is also a good idea to discuss your roles as parents, such as whether one parent will stay home with the children. Your attorney can also help you understand your state’s laws about custody, so that should you ever get a divorce you have a good understanding of how custody is determined and how you would parent separately.
Since you and your spouse will have so many legal responsibilities to each other and the family you hope to create, a prenuptial agreement is an important planning document your attorney can help you prepare. The prenuptial is an opportunity to plan for the worst-case scenario – that in which your marriage does not last. With the help of your attorney, you can decide which assets will be considered separate property (and won’t be divided in the divorce), which marital assets you each will be entitled to, and the amount and duration of spousal support.
You can also discuss custody and child support, and things such as pet custody and how you will conduct yourselves should you separate. The best way to create a prenuptial agreement is through a collaborative process in which you and your future spouse discuss all the options and potential outcomes and work out solutions that seem fair to both of you. You each will need a separate attorney to review the document to protect your own interests once you create a plan.
Your attorney can also help you understand when you might need to create a postnuptial agreement, an agreement created after marriage. This can function as an addendum to the prenuptial agreement or a complete rewrite of it. If one or both of you experiences a substantial change in your financial position, cheating occurs in your marriage, or you have children, a postnuptial agreement allows you to rethink your plan for the end of your marriage based on these new facts.
Taking the time now to understand the legal and financial implications of marriage will ensure that you create a healthy union that will last for many years to come.