Frequently Asked Questions about Marriage Law

Q: How does the law define a marriage?

A: Legally speaking, a marriage is essentially a contract between two persons, generally a man and a woman indicating their intention to be man and wife.

Q: What are the requirements for a legally valid marriage?

A: The exact requirements vary by state but generally you must get a marriage license and complete the waiting period required under the state law. Both spouses must be at least 18 years old. Parental consent or the consent from a Judge must be obtained if either spouse is less than 18 years of age. Depending on your state laws, you may be subject to blood tests. The marriage ceremony must be officiated by a member of the clergy or someone qualified to do so by state law. There must be at least two or more witnesses.

Q: Who can officiate a marriage?

A: Generally the following persons can officiate a marriage:
– A judge, justice of peace, magistrate or a county clerk
– A mayor (in some jurisdictions, deputy mayors can also officiate)
– A member of the clergy – minister, priest, rabbi

Q: How can I keep savings account as my separate property separate after my marriage?

A: You should keep all your separate property separate during the marriage if you want the property to remain separate property in case of divorce or in the event of your death. Your separate property will remain separate as long as you do not commingle it with the property you acquire during the marriage. Once you commingle your assets, it becomes difficult and sometimes impossible to separate them.

Q: What are the requirements for a valid prenuptial agreement?

A: The intending spouses must enter into the prenuptial agreement in good faith – without the intention of misrepresenting or taking advantage of the other. They must disclose all their income, assets and debts to each other. Ideally both intending spouses must have their own attorneys. In some states, this is a legal requirement.

Q: What is “common law marriage”?

A: Under common law marriage, you will be considered as married even if no marriage ceremony has taken place. There will be no marriage license or certificate in case of a common law marriage. They couple must meet the requirements for a common law marriage in the sate where they live. The general requirements are that the couple must be living together and indicate to the general public that they are man and wife.

Q: I have been married to Thomas for nearly 10 years. I have owned and operated by spa business for 5 years before I got married and I continue to own and operate the business today. How can the income from my business be considered as community property when the business is my separate property?

A: Just because you owned the business even before your marriage to Thomas, don’t assume that the business is your separate business. If Thomas contributed money or labor on made any other contribution to the growth of your business over the years, he will be entitled to a share in the increase in the value of your business in case the two of you get divorced or in the event of your death.

Q: Should a married couple file a joint tax return?

A: Before you take a decision, you need to do a little calculations. Generally a joint tax return will provide you with certain tax advantages but sometimes you may end up paying less tax if the two of you file separately. So determine your tax liabilities under both scenario and opt for the one that offers you the best tax advantage. Remember, spouses who file separately must report 50% of the combined income and deduction in addition to the general income and deductions.

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