Marriage is a voluntary, private contract between two adults. While it is a personal and emotional commitment, it is also an official relationship that changes the legal status of both parties. A family law attorney from Carol A. N. Breit, Attorney at Law in Richmond, VA, can help you understand the legal technicalities of marriage, as well as the rights and responsibilities that come along with it.

The legal rights and obligations associated with marriage have evolved with our society and today are the same for both spouses. Each state has its own rules about marriage, but there are some uniform principles, including:

  • Who can marry whom. Each state prohibits marriage between brothers and sisters, parent and child, and some prohibit marriage between aunt or uncle and niece or nephew.
  • Age requirements. Each state has a minimum age requirement, typically 18 years old before a marriage license can be issued. Some states permit marriage at a younger age if parental consent is given.
  • Residency requirements. Most states require one or both of the parties to reside in the state for a specific period of time before issuing a marriage license.
  • Medical exam and licensing. Some states require the completion of a medical exam and blood test before issuing a marriage license. The marriage license must be issued by a designated public official.
  • Ceremony and officials. Some states require a formal ceremony of some kind with witnesses and a licensed public or religious official in order to recognize the marriage. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but both parties must officially give their consent to the union.

There are numerous personal and legal benefits to marriage. For example, there are both federal and state laws that provide various rights only to married people. Other positives associated with marriage include Social Security survivor benefits, inheritance and property rights, the ability to sue third parties for the wrongful death of a spouse or for loss of consortium, and the right to make medical decisions on a spouse’s behalf as well as have access to sensitive health information.

Common law marriage

Many couples believe they will form a common law marriage and be entitled to the legal benefits and obligations of married couples if they live together for a significant period of time. It is not quite that simple. Each state defines the requirements that must be met to legally qualify as having a common law marriage, and many states no longer recognize common law marriage at all.

Generally, a common law marriage is recognized when a couple lives together in a common law marriage state for a significant period. Among the states that recognize common law marriage, none define the time period per se, but, typically, relationship of 10 years or longer is required. The couple must also have the intent to be married, which is generally measured by whether or not the couple presents themselves to the public as a married couple. Evidence of the necessary intent includes sharing the same last name, filing joint tax returns and referring to each other as husband or wife.

Premarital and cohabitation agreements

Couples who are considering marriage or living together may benefit from talking to a family law attorney about the advantages of a premarital agreement (also called a “prenuptial agreement” or an “antenuptial agreement”) or a cohabitation agreement. Although these types of contracts are not necessary very romantic, premarital agreements are a useful tool for defining the legal relationships between two people, particularly as they relate to property. Generally, the intent of these agreements is to create a framework for handling money and property issues during the marriage or relationship and to create a road map for property division should the relationship eventually end.

Each state has its own laws about what types of issues can be addressed in a premarital agreement, but there are some commonalities across state lines. For example, most states will not uphold agreements about child custody or support, and they will not uphold agreements that were created fraudulently or unfairly or that go against public policy. A number of states have also adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act. The Act dictates how premarital agreements should address property ownership, control, and management during the marriage and how property should be divided upon separation, divorce or death.

Contact a family law attorney

Getting married is one of the most important things people do. It reflects a deep emotional commitment while also changing the parties’ legal statuses. By understanding your rights and obligations as a married person, you may more fully appreciate the step you are taking. Before you marry or move in with your partner, consult a family law lawyer at Carol A. N. Breit, Attorney at Law in Richmond, VA, to identify any future issues that you could resolve now to prevent difficulties later.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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