If you are planning to get married, it may be to your advantage to consider not only the benefits of marriage but also the legal obligations. In every state across America, marriage is a legal contract that brings additional rights and responsibilities for both spouses. Some laws concerning marriage are the same in all states, while others vary from one jurisdiction to another. Certain rights and responsibilities of a married person may continue even after the marriage is ended by divorce or death.
Certain Rights and Responsibilities Are Unique to Marriage
For the most part, marriage law is left to the states - although certain issues such as immigration of a spouse are governed by federal statutes. State laws often refer to marital obligations in very general terms, such as the duty of each spouse to care for, support and protect the other.
Although these terms may seem vague, they have been clarified by courts in written precedents over the years. In Ohio, for instance, couples enjoy the "right of consortium," which includes a right to sexual relations, love, and solace. Marital rights can be legally enforced. While adultery is not a criminal offense in most states, for example, an unfaithful spouse might end up on the short end of a property settlement in divorce court as a consequence of his or her infidelity.
Marriage Can Affect Your Property Rights
No state treats the property you acquire during marriage as your sole property, even if your name is the only one on the title. In community property states such as California, both spouses enjoy equal rights to property acquired during the marriage.
In non-community property states such as Ohio, it is a bit easier for an individual spouse to own property. Certain exceptions also apply. In every state, property inherited by one spouse is typically treated as individual property. Marital property may be divided at divorce or inherited by a surviving spouse
Spouses Are Responsible for Their Children
Spouses are jointly responsible for the care and support of their children - an obligation that continues until the children reach age 18. Some states continue the parents' support obligation for unmarried children who are under 21 years of age and are not employed. If a child is disabled, the parents may have a lifelong obligation. Each spouse's legal responsibility to support the children of the marriage continues even after divorce.
A Prenuptial Agreement Can Affect Some Rights and Responsibilities
A prenuptial agreement is a binding contract negotiated before your wedding that defines the terms of the relationship between you and your soon-to-be spouse - particularly the financial elements. Most states allow married persons to agree that all property acquired by one spouse during the marriage belongs only to that individual.
Some states add special requirements. For example, each of you might be required to seek the advice of a separate lawyer before a prenuptial agreement is signed. Some obligations cannot be changed no matter what is written in a prenuptial agreement, such as the legal requirement that you both must support the children of your marriage.
A Family Law Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding marital rights and responsibilities is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.