Getting Married: Checklist

When you are planning your marriage, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. First, check the marriage requirements in your state. Consider speaking with a family law attorney for state marriage-related issues. The requirements for marriage and pre-marital agreements vary based on location.

It helps to have a marriage checklist handy so you don't miss anything. Some things you will need for the big day include the marriage license, the ring, and of course, your new spouse. But what else should you know before heading into marriage?

1. Are You Ready for Marriage?

Most people believe they're ready for marriage without thinking about the future. Some states now require premarital counseling or a waiting period before a wedding takes place. This lets a third party discuss things the future couple may not have considered, like bank accounts and children. Communication is key.

Marital success hinges on how a couple discusses finances, children, and future plans. It is important that future spouses discuss these concerns before getting married. Take the "Are You Ready for Marriage" Test for more insight.

2. Legal Marriage Requirements and Documents You May Need

All states have legal requirements, such as residency, premarital counseling, and more. Be sure you have fulfilled all legal marriage requirements in your state before the big day. Some things states may need newlyweds to produce for a marriage license include:

  • Birth certificate
  • Driver's license
  • Social security card
  • Blood test (not all states use this)
  • Proof of residency
  • Divorce decree or death certificate for your previous spouse (if applicable)

State law may want premarital counseling or other steps before marriage. Check with an attorney before the wedding day.

3. Marriage Ceremonies

A marriage ceremony is different from a wedding ceremony. A state or county official performs the marriage ceremony in the courthouse or clerk's office. The wedding ceremony is the big event you'll have with family and friends at church or your home.

In some states, a justice of the peace must perform the ceremony. Witnesses must sign the marriage certificate. Even if you have a big church wedding, the official ceremony must conform to legal requirements. You should discuss the specific requirements with an attorney before your marriage ceremony.

4. Prenuptial Agreements

If you have property or a business before marriage, you may need to protect it if the marriage ends. A prenuptial (or "pre-marital") agreement can help determine which property is marital property and what is separate property. Anyone considering a prenuptial agreement should consult an attorney. Prenuptial agreements must be carefully written to be enforceable.

A prenuptial agreement protects property or business assets that the spouses want to keep separate. It may also address estate planning needs. A prenuptial agreement may assign life insurance and insurance policies to avoid arguments.

Married couples should know that child custody, visitation, and child support are always unenforceable in a prenuptial agreement. The courts will not consider any advance plans for children as binding in a divorce.

5. Changing Your Name After Marriage

Spouses no longer have to take the other's last name. If you choose to do so, there are some easy steps you can take to make a name change. Some things to consider if you'll have a new name include:

  • You'll need a new driver's license. This is obtained through your state's department of motor vehicles.
  • You will need a new Social Security card and Social Security Number. This is obtained through the Social Security Administration.
  • You should change your name on all credit cards.
  • All agencies will need a certified copy of your marriage certificate, not a plain copy.
  • If you do change your name, you will need a court order to change it back.

6. Money and Property

When you get married, your property and finances merge with your spouse's. Your assets become "community" or "marital" property. If you wish to keep some assets separate, you should consult an attorney or financial expert. Other financial issues include pre-existing debt, taxes, and mortgages.

Some spouses have a joint bank account for family or marital expenses and separate accounts for their own personal expenses. If you choose to do this, you should consult a financial planner to avoid tax liabilities.

Related Resources

Please visit the links below for specific information on the following marriage-related topics:

Need More Help With Your Getting Married Checklist? Get Answers From an Attorney

You are ready to take the plunge and marry your sweetheart. While marriage is a time of joy and bliss, it is also a legal agreement between two people. Even the "getting married checklist" will not answer all your questions.

For help understanding the laws in your state, let a family law attorney walk you through the process. Find a family law attorney near you for some peace of mind before tying the knot.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Many people can get married without hiring legal help
  • Marriages involving prenups, significant debt, child custody issues, and property questions may need an attorney

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Marriage is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries (including your spouse!) to your will. Consider creating a power of attorney to ensure your spouse can access your financial accounts. Also, a health care directive lets your spouse make your medical decisions if you ever become incapacitated.

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