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Legal Surprises in Marriage: What You Need to Know Before Saying ‘I Do’

Marriage is often seen as a romantic union, but it is also a legal contract that comes with various obligations and rights. Many people are unaware of the full extent of these legal contractual obligations. This article aims to shed light on these often-overlooked aspects of marriage.

 1. Property Ownership

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Upon marriage, any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is typically considered marital property and is subject to division upon divorce. This means that even if one spouse purchases an asset, it may be divided between both parties if the marriage ends.

 2. Spousal Support

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Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a common obligation that arises from marriage. It involves one spouse providing financial support to the other after separation or divorce. The terms of spousal support can be outlined in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

 3. Debt Responsibility

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Married couples may be jointly responsible for debts incurred during the marriage. This means that creditors can pursue either spouse for repayment, regardless of who incurred the debt.

 4. Tax Implications

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Marriage affects how couples file their taxes. They can choose to file jointly or separately, which can impact their tax liabilities and benefits. Joint filing often provides tax advantages but also means both spouses are liable for any tax debts.

 5. Medical Decision-Making

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Spouses have the legal right to make medical decisions for each other in the event of incapacitation. This includes decisions about treatment options and end-of-life care.

 6. Inheritance Rights

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In the absence of a will, spouses are typically the primary beneficiaries of each other’s estates. This means they inherit the majority of their partner’s assets upon death.

 7. Social Security Benefits

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Married individuals may be eligible for spousal Social Security benefits, which can provide financial support in retirement. These benefits can also extend to divorced spouses if the marriage lasted at least ten years.

 8. Survivor Benefits

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Surviving spouses are often entitled to various survivor benefits, including pensions, veterans’ benefits, and life insurance payouts. These benefits can provide crucial financial support after the loss of a spouse.

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Spouses are considered each other’s next of kin, giving them the right to make legal decisions on behalf of their partner, such as consenting to medical procedures or managing their estate.

 10. Marital Privilege

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Marital privilege allows spouses to refuse to testify against each other in court. This legal protection helps maintain the confidentiality of private communications between spouses.

 11. Child Support Obligations

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In the event of a divorce, spouses may be required to pay child support. This obligation ensures that both parents contribute to the financial well-being of their children.

 12. Custody and Visitation Rights

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Married parents have equal rights to custody and visitation of their children. These rights can be outlined in a separation or divorce agreement to ensure fair access to the children.

 13. Health Insurance Benefits

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Spouses are often eligible to be covered under each other’s health insurance plans. This can provide significant savings and access to better healthcare options.

 14. Immigration Benefits

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Marriage can provide a pathway to citizenship for non-citizen spouses. This process involves legal documentation and can significantly impact the immigration status of the non-citizen spouse.

 15. Pension and Retirement Accounts

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Spouses may have rights to each other’s pension and retirement accounts. These rights can be protected or modified through prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.

 16. Business Ownership

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If one or both spouses own a business, the business may be considered marital property. This means it could be subject to division upon divorce, impacting the business’s future.

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Legal separation allows couples to live apart while remaining legally married. This can provide a framework for managing finances, child custody, and other obligations without proceeding to divorce.

 18. Domestic Violence Protection

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Married individuals have legal protections against domestic violence, including restraining orders and access to shelters. These protections are crucial for ensuring the safety of spouses and children.

 19. Name Change

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Marriage provides the opportunity for spouses to change their last names. This process typically involves updating legal documents such as driver’s licenses and Social Security cards.

 20. Estate Planning

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Marriage is an ideal time to update estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. This ensures that both spouses’ wishes are honored in the event of death or incapacitation.

The Takeaway

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Marriage is not just a romantic commitment but a legal contract with significant obligations and rights. Understanding these legal aspects can help couples navigate their marriage more effectively and protect their interests. From property ownership to spousal support, and from medical decision-making to inheritance rights, being aware of these obligations can prevent future disputes and ensure a smoother marital journey.

By being informed and proactive, couples can better manage their legal responsibilities and enjoy a more secure and harmonious marriage.

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  • Robin Jaffin

    As the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners, LLC through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone she has played a pivotal role in promoting dietary solutions for individuals with specific needs in the health and wellness industry as well as amplify the voices and experiences of women worldwide.

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