Does an engagement affect my legal rights?
Simply becoming engaged to be married does not by itself affect your legal rights. Getting engaged, legally, is almost like signing a Partnership Agreement with your fiance. As you plan your wedding, you may be required to sign contracts and may be held responsible for agreements you both sign.
Additionally, being engaged does not afford you the same rights that actually being married would offer, and does not usually affect your legal status. There are a few exceptions to this general rule, each having to do with a specific aspect of some engagements.
- The engagement ring: Many couples wonder what would happen to the engagement ring if one person called off the engagement. The answer varies by state, so if you plan to give a family heirloom as an engagement ring, you may wish to discuss your expectations first. In some states, an engagement ring meets all the qualifications of a gift, and the recipient is entitled to keep it whether the marriage takes place or not. In other states, an engagement ring is considered a gift that is conditional upon marriage, so if the couple breaks up before marriage, the ring should be given back.
- One person is not a U.S. citizen: If one member of the couple is not a U.S. citizen, becoming engaged may make it possible to get a fiance visa to live in the United States. This is discussed in more detail in the section on legal status below.
- Prenuptial Agreements: If you decide that you would like to enter into a Prenuptial Agreement, this legal contract needs to be completed before you get married.
Does it matter if a Prenuptial Agreement is signed before or after an engagement?
Most couples who decide to enter into a Prenuptial Agreement do so while they are engaged to be married. In some circumstances, they may decide to discuss some points that would be part of a Prenuptial Agreement before they get engaged. Ultimately, it does not matter much whether a prenup is made before or after a formal engagement, since the terms of the contract will go into effect once a couple is married. What does matter is whether you have adequate time before getting married to negotiate and sign a prenup. If you try to do this too close to your wedding date, and one person does not have enough time to get legal advice or feels coerced, the agreement might not be considered valid.
Make sure you have checked off each box on your legal to-do list for engaged couples and know how much time to allow for each item before the big day. If it turns out that there is not enough time to enter into a Prenuptial Agreement, you may consider a Postnuptial Agreement instead, which you would sign after the marriage has begun. In this situation, you may want to consult with a lawyer to make sure you will not be giving up any valuable legal rights.
What should I include in a Prenuptial Agreement?
When you get married, your legal rights will change significantly. You and your future spouse may want to address a number of topics concerning your finances and property when drafting a Prenuptial Agreement. Before making a final decision, you might consider the pros and cons of signing a prenup, and understand what is likely to happen if you do not have one. Here are some common considerations before making a Prenuptial Agreement:
- Circumstances going into marriage: If you or your partner has significantly more savings or other assets, will property stay separate in the event of a separation down the road? Likewise, if one of you has student loan debt, should that person remain solely responsible for that debt? During divorce, assets and debts are divided. A prenup can add some clarity on how to divide assets and debts.
- Joint vs. separate finances: During the marriage, do you plan to keep your earnings separate? Will each person be entitled to what they have earned in the event of divorce, or would you agree to an equal split of property and money regardless of each person's earnings? What would you agree to do financially if one person steps back from their career to raise any children born during your marriage?
- Prior relationships: It is more common for couples to enter into a Prenuptial Agreement if one or both members have children from a prior relationship. You may wish to consider a prenup as a means of sorting through who is responsible for what financially when it comes to the children, and to make sure your children's finances are protected.
Can I get engaged before my divorce is final?
Yes. Getting engaged does not change your legal marital status. Of course, you are not able to enter into a new marriage before a divorce is final. Even if you are legally separated, until a divorce is finalized, you may not marry anyone else.
If you still need to finalize a divorce, you may want to ask a lawyer whether publicly announcing an engagement might be detrimental to, or delay, your divorce case.
How does an engagement affect my legal status if I am seeking U.S. citizenship?
If you are engaged to be married to a United States citizen, you may be eligible for a K-1 non-immigrant visa. This is also known as a fiance visa. If your fiance obtains one of these visas on your behalf, you are required to intend to be married within 90 days of arriving in the United States.
Obtaining the visa requires significant preparation. First, you must have seen your fiance in person at least once in the two years prior to seeking the visa, unless your culture prohibits prospective spouses from doing so. Then, you must file Form I-129F, also known as a Petition for Alien Fiance. The form will be reviewed not only by citizenship and immigration services but also by United States Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security.
While you are a fiance on a fiance visa, you have the right to be in the United States. However, the visa will expire, and if you do not end up getting married within the 90-day requirement, your legal right to reside in the U.S. may be revoked. Once you are married, you can file to obtain a permanent visa as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
Does being engaged to be married affect my legal or financial status in general?
Being engaged to be married does not usually affect your legal status, unless you are engaged to a U.S. citizen and you are seeking citizenship or a visa. Being a fiance is otherwise not a separate legal status.
Financially, things can get a bit complicated. If you take on debts, or sign contracts, as a couple before the wedding, those debts can follow either person that agreed to them, even if the wedding never happens. This happens most frequently with wedding vendor contracts when an engagement is canceled after deposits and contracts are paid.
Marriage, however, most certainly does change your legal and financial status, so it may be wise to discuss these issues with your partner before the big day.
To learn more about the laws surrounding engagements and Prenuptial Agreements, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for affordable legal advice.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.