Marriage carries certain legal implications with respect to property, money, and debt. Being legally married means your spouse's income (and debt) are now yours. If one of you runs up a huge credit card bill, you are both on the hook when the bill comes due.
The Divorce & Property section of FindLaw's Family Law Center provides information about marital (or communal) property and debt, how property is treated in a divorce, how marriage affects taxes, and related topics.
Marriage Money Problems and How to Avoid Them
An otherwise close and loving relationship can quickly come undone under financial stress. Money problems are one of the most common cause of marital discord. While it's hardly romantic, discussing financial matters before and during your marriage is important.
At the beginning of a marriage, set clear financial expectations:
- What are essential expenses?
- Will you have joint or separate checking and savings accounts?
- What financial contributions will each person make to the household?
- Who will actually pay the bills and balance the checkbook?
Couples also need to decide what their future plans may be, and what it will take to afford that future. For instance, it costs a lot to raise children when you add up the cost of childcare, medical and dental care, activities, and a college education. Retirement goals are another consideration. Will you have enough money saved to meet those goals?
Marital Property During Divorce: Who Owns What?
Possessions acquired by partners after they get married are generally considered to be shared, although each spouse may claim certain items as a practical matter. This property is referred to as "marital property," which really only matters when partners get divorced.
Marital property does not include property that was acquired by either spouse prior to the marriage. Nor does it include inheritances or personal gifts unless they were converted to shared use.
Marital property is subject to division upon divorce. For those who live in community property states, marital property is usually divided right down the middle. But more states use an equitable division model in which the needs and assets of each party are carefully considered.
Everyone enters into marriage with the belief that it will last, but roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. It makes sense to take precautions with respect to property.
For instance, any property acquired with nonmarital funds (such as an inheritance) is considered separate property, as are personal injury lawsuit awards. But if that separate property is "commingled" with marital property, it will be difficult to separate in the event of a divorce.
There are many details and exceptions to marital property law. If you are preparing for a separation or divorce, talk with an experienced family law attorney near you who can explain these details.