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5 Things to Do Before You Get Married

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

When it comes to walking down the aisle, you'll want to be prepared. While things like color schemes or music for your wedding ceremony may come to mind, there are also a few legal concerns you may want to consider before you get married.

For those planning to pop the big question this Valentine's Day, or for those whose weddings are already set, a legal "to-do" list can come in handy.

Cue the Wedding March, here are five things you may want to do before you tie the knot:

  1. Apply for a marriage license. Before a state recognizes your marriage as legally binding, you must get a marriage license. Each state has different steps you must take in order to apply for a marriage license. For example, some states require you and your significant other to be at least 18 while others allow 16-year-olds to marry with parental consent. Be sure to apply for your marriage license well before the wedding because some states might take a few days to process and grant your license.
  2. Decide whether you want to change your last name. Another thing both partners should do before they get married is to decide if either one of them wants to change their name. It's not legally required for either partner to change their last names, but if the wife wants to change her last name to be the same as her husband's, then all she needs is the marriage certificate in order to update agencies and organizations about her name change. On the other hand, if you want to change your last name to something completely different, you may need a court order and to file a petition to legally change your name.
  3. Consider a prenuptial agreement. While it may seem unromantic, a prenuptial agreement can help avoid expensive litigation if you get divorced in the future and can protect each spouse's separate property. It can also help you establish a custody plan for any kids you've had together prior to marriage in the event of separation. A family law attorney near you can help you create a prenup that's fair to both partners.
  4. Discuss debts and assets with your partner. If you live in a community property state, the debts and assets you incur after you're married could become marital property. In the event of a divorce, you may be forced to split marital property 50/50 (unless you have a prenup, discussed above). This can include wages, interest earned on investments, and homes. So be sure to discuss spending habits and future investment plans with your soon-to-be spouse because their money-spending ways could affect your bank account, too.
  5. Make sure your ceremony is legal. Most states have laws about who can perform a marriage ceremony. It's usually limited to people like judges, ministers or clergy members. Some states even allow people ordained via the Internet to officiate a wedding. Check your state's laws to make sure the person marrying you is legally allowed to officiate the wedding.

So before you say "I do," remember to cover these legal tips so you can live happily ever after. And after your big day, be sure to check out FindLaw's Legal Planning guide for newly married couples.

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