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Q. What are the requirements for marriage?

A. While there are legal variations from state to state, ordinarily, a couple must obtain a license from the Clerk of a municipal court or government office to get married. Close relatives may not marry each other. In some states first cousins may marry. Parties to a marriage must have the necessary capacity to enter into a contract; that is, they must be competent, of legal age, and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most states have a "waiting period" of several days between obtaining the marriage license and the actual ceremony.

Q. How old do you have to be to get married?

A. Usually, anyone the age of 18 or older can enter into a valid marriage. Many states require parental consent for the marriage of younger individuals.

Q. What type of ceremony is necessary for a valid marriage?

A. Marriages are performed by ordained ministers, notary publics, a judge or a county clerk, depending on the laws of the state. A religious ceremony is not necessary for a valid marriage. Ordinarily, one or more witnesses must sign the marriage certificate.

Q. What is a common-law marriage?

A. A common-law marriage is a non-ceremonial marriage that is recognized in a minority of states. In those states which recognize common-law marriages, it is necessary for the couple to clearly represent themselves as being married to the general public, as by introducing themselves as husband and wife, sharing a last name, signing documents as husband and wife and the like. A valid common-law marriage can be ended only by death or divorce. If a couple lives together for a period of time in a state which recognizes common-law marriages, and then moves to another state which does not recognize common-law marriage, the parties are still validly married.

Q. Must a woman assume her husbands last name?

A. A woman has the right to retain her maiden or previous last name, so long as it is not done for the purpose of fraud or deception. She must also use the name consistently.

Q. What is necessary to make a prenuptial agreement valid?

A. Ordinarily, and depending on state law, there must be full disclosure of each of the parties' assets, so that each prospective spouse will know what they are giving up and what they would have been entitled to if no agreement was entered into. While it is not strictly necessary for the parties to have separate attorneys, or to be represented at all, it is strongly recommended that each prospective spouse have their own lawyer. Often, prenuptial agreements will be declared invalid by a judge because of fraud, duress or coercion; when each party is represented, the likelihood of the agreement withstanding such an attack is greatly improved.

Q. Can two people enter into an agreement about expense sharing if they are not married?

A. Two people who want to live together without the benefit of marriage may enter into agreements fixing each party's obligations during the time they are living together. Courts are reluctant to enforce such agreements where they spell out obligations to be performed after separation or termination of the living together arrangement except insofar as the agreement sets out which party owns personal property.

Q. Are parties to a marriage responsible for separate debts incurred during the marriage?

A. Ordinarily, spouses are not responsible for each others debts unless they execute a document making them responsible. Credit card companies, for example, often require each spouse to sign an application where they agree to be jointly responsible for each others obligations. Some states have special statutes (laws) that make spouses responsible for each others debts for such necessities as medical expense, and expenses incurred for the benefit of the family. In community property states, spouses are generally responsible for each others debts.

Q. Who is responsible for debts incurred before the marriage?

A. Spouses are generally not responsible for each others pre-marriage debts. In certain community property states, and under special circumstances, one may become liable for a spouses pre-marital debts.

Q. Does a wife have a right to her own earnings?

A. A wife owns her own property and earnings; she can dispose of such property as she sees fit.



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