A lot of factors go into deciding whether to marry. You can probably guess a lot of them: love, lifelong commitment, companionship, having children and financial stability. Those are the top five according to the Pew Research Center.
While those factors certainly are important, you’re wise to also consider the practical side: employment status, family plans and—this being a legal blog—the legal aspects of a prospective tied knot. When it comes to legal questions, here are the top six you need to ask before saying "I do."
#1 What are your financial obligations? While, technically speaking, you won’t be held legally responsible for debts your spouse accrues prior to marriage, the repercussions of debt could affect not only your household budget but low credit scores will also affect your ability to get loans for homes, cars and other needs.
#2 What are your assets? Wisconsin is a marital property state, so any property either spouse acquires during the marriage will be considered the property of both. Property you bring into the marriage, however, can remain as individual property. If you want the latter, you should discuss that going in because under some circumstances, individual property can turn into marital property. Consider, for example, a home that one party purchased prior to marriage. Through the years, you refinance it a couple times and make some renovations—all of which can intermingle ownership.
#3 Do we need a prenup? Questions 1 and 2 illustrate reasons you may want to consider a premarital agreement, but other factors may also matter. It’s important to note that just because someone wants a prenuptial agreement it doesn’t mean he or she plans to get divorced. It just helps deal with some issues up front so they don’t become issues down the road.
#4 Should we change our names? Traditionally, wives were the ones to change their surnames to match their husbands’, but couples today are choosing other options. Some men now choose to take their wives’ names, and many couples are hyphenating both their surnames to create a new one for the whole family. If you decide one or both partners will change names, be sure to notify all important parties, including, among others, your bank, employer, post office, department of motor vehicles and Social Security Administration.
#5 Do you have a will? If you don’t have wills, marriage marks the time to get them. If you do have wills, consider whether changes should be made. Many couples will change beneficiary names upon marriage.
#6 Do you have kids? Presumably, you’ll know by the time you go ring shopping whether the object of your desire has children. If either partner has children from a prior relationship, both need to understand and be willing to commit to placement arrangements and financial obligations.
If your passion overpowers your legal concerns, these questions are still worthy of discussion. Even if they don’t play into your decision-making, they can at least help manage your marital expectations.
By Brian Weber, Family and Divorce Lawyer, Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For a family or divorce lawyer in La Crosse WI, call Brian at 608-784-5678.