Getting married is a life-changing event with broad legal and financial implications.
Married couples have a lot to consider. How do I change my name? How will taxes work as a married couple? Do social security benefits change once married? What is marital property? What is a community property state? What is a common law marriage state?
The following FindLaw articles and resources will help you navigate life before and after marriage.
What To Do Before Marriage
Marriage is a lifetime commitment. Before you rush to city hall to get a marriage license, it is important to consider a few premarital considerations, such as:
- Marriage license application
- Parental consent (if underage)
- Waiting periods
- Marriage license
- Prenuptial agreements (spousal support, estate planning, and marital property)
- Destination wedding ceremony (legal documents needed)
A helpful legal document to consider before a marriage ceremony is a prenuptial agreement (also known as a prenup).
Divorce is emotionally and financially draining. In the event of a divorce, having a plan will save you from the hard process of dividing property and money down the road.
For example, finances are a big consideration. If one partner earns substantially more than the other, will that impact your life together? How much spousal support will you or your partner provide in the event of a divorce decree? Signing a prenuptial agreement can help protect your assets if you decide to get divorced.
Estate planning is an important reason to consider getting a prenuptial agreement. If you own property or will inherit an interest in property, it is a good idea to add an estate planning section in the prenuptial agreement. This will help deal with any future probate issues.
Marital property is another reason to get a prenuptial agreement. How will you divide your marital property in the event of a divorce? Who will get the family house? Who will get the car? Will you sell the family house and split the profits? A prenuptial agreement will address these concerns.
Although a prenuptial agreement may lead to an uncomfortable discussion, it is easier to talk about the division of property and finances now rather than during a divorce when tensions are high.
If you plan to have a destination wedding ceremony, make sure to plan ahead and get a marriage license before leaving the country. Note that it may take several days to get a marriage license, so do not wait till the last minute.
To get a marriage license, you must fill out a marriage license application at your local county clerk's office. The county clerk's office will ask to see your driver's license and birth certificate (original or certified copy), and you'll pay a fee (payable by credit card).
Some state laws may have waiting periods. Waiting periods mean that you may have to wait 0-3 days (depending on the state) after filling out a marriage license application before receiving a marriage license.
Once you receive a marriage license, make sure that the marriage license is valid by the time you have your marriage ceremony. Some marriage licenses expire after a certain amount of time.
After your marriage ceremony, be sure to send a record of the marriage ceremony to your local county clerk's office in order to validate the marriage. Afterward, your local county clerk's office will handle the issuance of your marriage certificate.
What To Do After Marriage
After an officiant administers a marriage ceremony, there are a few specific requirements to consider as a newly married couple:
- Applying for a name change
- Issuance of a marriage certificate
- Certified copies of a marriage certificate
- Filing the marriage certificate in marriage records or vital records
- Adding your spouse to your employer's health insurance policies
- Life insurance (adding your spouse as a beneficiary)
- Writing a new will (estate planning and probate issues)
- Appointing a power of attorney
- Opening a joint credit card or checking account
Changing Your Name
In family law, there is no legal requirement to apply for a name change once your marital status changes.
If married couples choose to apply for a name change, most state laws allow married couples to change only their middle and last names by filling out a marriage license application. If a married couple does not apply for a name change during the application process, they can get a court order to change their name.
There are many different ways married couples can change their name:
- One partner can take the other partner's last name
- One or both partners may hyphenate their last name
- Both partners may choose to retain their premarital names
Legal Document Changes
If you decide to apply for a name change, be sure to reflect this change on all legal documents, including:
- State-issued identification (e.g., driver's license)
- Military identification
- Social Security card
- You will need to notify:
- Financial institutions
- Any person or company with whom you do business
Lastly, notify social security of your name change by requesting a new social security card. You must visit a local social security office and fill out Form SS-5.
Make sure to bring the following legal documents to the social security office:
Click on a link below to learn more about getting married.