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Marriage laws every couple should know about

While we tend to focus on the romantic side of getting married, marriage is a legal relationship. It may be the most important legal agreement you’ll ever make. State and federal laws apply to marriages and affect how you file taxes, how your assets may be distributed, and more. State-specific laws often govern common-law marriages, annulments and age of consent to marry. Here are few things that all newlyweds should know.


Just married?

Ask a lawyer any question and find other legal resources for newlyweds.


Changes in legal status that may occur after you get married:

Name change

After you get married, you have the opportunity to change your name legally. Usually, your marriage certificate (with the new name) is the only proof you need to change your name legally. If you want to change your last name to your spouse’s last name, you usually can just start using that name and update your documentation at local agencies like the DMV and Social Security office.

If you want to change your name to something different than your spouse’s last name, you may need to file with the courts to change your name legally. Your local court clerk should be able to provide you with the forms you need to change your name to something other than your spouse’s last name.

While same-sex marriage is legal in every state, there may still be local laws that prohibit couples from changing their names without a court order. Again, your local court clerk will tell you what you need to do to change your name.

To notify your bank, credit card company, or others about your name change you can send them a Name Change Notification Letter.

Filing taxes

When married, you can legally file returns together as a couple. You can file Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. How you choose to file your IRS tax returns after you are married is up to you. Some couples configure their tax obligations both ways to see which way may work best for them. You can file your returns as married even if you got married on the last day of the tax year.

Is the “marriage tax penalty” real?

Under the current tax law, the only “marriage tax penalty” applies to those with a high income (over $500,000 for singles and $600,000 for married couples). At this income level, single and married people are taxed at 37 percent.

Medical Consent

Married people may have additional rights in medical situations. Spouses often have more rights to visit their spouse in the hospital. Spouses also usually have default rights to make medical decisions for their spouse if they are incapacitated. If you’d like to legally assign another person to make medical choices for you, you can appoint someone else using a Living Will.

Community property

While your assets and debts when you enter the marriage remain yours, assets acquired after you are married may be subject to your state’s community property laws. If you get divorced or die in a community property law state, your ex or surviving spouse may receive half of the marital property. If you want to choose how your assets are distributed, sign a Prenuptial Agreement and make a Will.

Since unique state laws govern marriage, it may be helpful to ask a lawyer about marriage laws in your state. If you don’t want your marital outcomes to be dictated by default state laws, you can put agreements in place such as a Prenuptial Agreement, Living Will and Last Will and Testament to help bypass your state laws. Get started for free today!

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