By Spencer Topham
I’ll admit it: On my wedding day, the legal and financial consequences of marriage were the last thing on my mind. Seemingly larger concerns such as catering, flowers, guests and honeymoon arrangements relegated any other thoughts to the deep background.
Although this mindset is representative of the vast majority of couples entering into marriage, the success or failure of most marriages hinges on each couple’s ability to deal with issues such as financial assets, communication, conflict, parenting and so forth. Marriage is a contract that carries significant legal and financial consequences. Consider the following issues and discuss any concerns with your future spouse before tying the knot.
Each state maintains its own marriage requirements. These include marriage licenses, blood tests, residency requirements and more. Make sure you and your future spouse have fulfilled all marriage requirements in your state prior to your wedding day.
Marriage, Money and Property
Marriage is a legal contract, meaning your property and finances will merge with those of your spouse to a certain extent. Familiarize yourself with state law definitions of marital property, and understand how to keep certain assets as separate property (if you wish to do so).
Taking on joint debt.
Because marriage involves combining two separate lives, many expenses such as housing, furniture, appliances, vehicles, and so forth, arise. In the event your marriage doesn’t last, you may be obligated to pay off debts that your spouse incurs during the marriage. Therefore, always consider the amount of debt you and your spouse can afford to repay, based on the earning potential of your respective occupations. This includes calculating any preexisting debts incurred by you or your spouse that may affect your ability to repay joint debts.
Does your future spouse pay bills on time? Have you discussed living on a budget? It makes sense to have this discussion before you’re married to decrease expectation disparities that could lead to conflicts.
If either you or your future spouse has significant financial assets, a prenuptial (or premarital) agreement can help define your property and financial rights, including what will happen if the marriage ends. If you are considering entering into a premarital agreement, you should consult an attorney to understand the legal requirements for the agreement to be considered valid and enforceable.
It’s important to keep records of all your financial affairs during marriage including insurance policies, marriage certificates, birth certificates, stock/bond certificates, tax returns, significant receipts and important contracts.
Once you’re married, one of the first things you should do is make appropriate beneficiary changes to any preexisting legal documents, such as insurance policies and stock/bond certificates. Additionally, if either you or your spouse has a preexisting will or other estate planning documents, you should consult your attorney to make appropriate changes.
Taxes and Benefits.
You and your future spouse should also inform your employer of your new legal status so that appropriate changes may be made for insurance benefits and federal income tax withholdings.
If you are adopting your spouse’s surname, be sure to update your driver’s license and Social Security card to reflect the new surname.
Marriage is a big commitment. Taking time to consider these legal and financial issues prior to the big day can alleviate conflicts and help you on your way to a long and happy marriage.
Please note: This article is offered for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to specific factual situations. Consult with an attorney concerning your own needs and circumstances and to obtain any legal advice with respect to the topics discussed in the article.
Spencer Topham is an associate with the law firm of Callister Nebeker and McCullough in Salt Lake City. His practice focuses on municipal, real property, business, banking, employment and social media law.
From Zions Bank’s Community Magazine • March / April 2012 • Page 72