While marriage is an incredible union and planning a wedding is a thrilling experience, there are many legal considerations for a couple to think about before getting married. Taking the time to learn about the legal requirements and consequences of marriage can save future headaches and heartache. It is easy to get swept up in the romance and emotion of planning a wedding, but it is equally important to understand any and all legal and financial nuances.
Basic Marriage and Ceremony Requirements
Each state has certain laws pertaining to marriage, and it is important to familiarize yourself with your states laws. It is also crucial to separate the religious and personal traditions of a ceremony, which have little bearing on the law, from those that do have a legal impact. For example, a marriage may not be valid unless a certain official performs it.
Prenuptial agreements can be awkward legal considerations. Few people want to think about the potential for divorce before even getting married. However, this agreement can serve as one of the most important legal documents for any marriage. It can create a sense of security, stability and trust that the relationship might lack otherwise.
The Financial Impacts of Marriage
Marriage is far more than just a traditional commitment of love and support to another person. It comes with a long list of legal and financial impacts, rights and responsibilities that couples often do not fully consider before jumping into a marriage. One of the greatest financial changes is the creation of marital property and the distinction between this property and individual property. A spouse who wishes to keep some property or assets separate from their partner will want to fully understand what they need to do to ensure this. It can be very easy to mix personal with marital property. For example, if a person has a savings or retirement account and they allow their spouse to deposit money into it, that entire account may become marital property.
Impact on Children and Inheritance
A marriage can have a major impact on children from previous marriages, and can affect inheritance. Often a new spouse becomes automatically entitled to an estate unless specific assets are set aside in wills or trusts. This often leaves stepchildren left out if new children are born into the marriage, and the ensuing legal battles can tear families apart.
Legal considerations can be complicated and confusing. A family law attorney may be able to help a potential spouse investigate the unique impacts of marriage on their lives. It is important to do this early rather than try to fix problems created after the marriage.
While annulments and divorces have the same result: dissolution of marriage; they are quite different. The main difference lies in how they treat the marriage itself. Much like a divorce, an annulment dissolves a marriage. However, an annulment serves (legally) as a declaration that the marriage did not happen, while a divorce is the ending of a validated marriage – with both parties returning to a single status.
Annulments can provide relief for couples who feel that they should not have gotten married in the first place. A civil annulment treats the marriage as though it didn’t exist. Certain requirements are required to grant a civil annulment, such as:
- Concealment: This occurs if one or both people hid important, material information, such as the fact that they had children or a felony conviction.
- Fraud or Misrepresentation: This occurs if one or both spouses lie about something extremely important, such as the ability to have children, knowing that they cannot have children or that they are not married to somebody else.
- Impotency: This occurs if one person is impotent and is not curable and if the other spouse didn’t know about this before getting married.
- Incest: This occurs if the two people in the marriage have close familial relations.
- Lack of Consent: This occurs if at least one of the parties does not have the mental capacity or ability to consent (think of minors), like if they were intoxicated at the time of marriage, or if they were forced into marriage (think shotgun wedding).
- Misunderstanding: This occurs if there’s a misunderstanding regarding a desire to have kids.
The requirements for a religious annulment are different than those of a civil annulment. For Catholic couples, the church will grant an annulment based on factors regarding honesty, maturity, consent, motivation, capacity to be in a marriage, and emotional stability. If the diocesan tribunal grants the annulment, then both parties will be allowed to remarry in the Catholic Church.
A divorce, on the other hand, is a legal action that’s taken between two people who are married in order to terminate the marriage. This is also called “dissolution of marriage.” No-fault laws make it possible for either party to file for a divorce with or without a “good” reason under an “irreconcilable differences” claim.
Both annulments and divorce are taxing on the couples seeking to end their partnership. It is important to seek the counsel of a professional divorce attorney, when determining the best route for an annulment or divorce.
Being a stepparent is often equal parts rewarding and challenging, particularly when it comes to establishing the initial bond with children in a newly blended family. By taking the time to get to know each child individually, and respecting personal boundaries and emotional needs, beautiful relationships can grow and thrive.
The following are a set of helpful tips to aid any stepparent seeking to nurture a healthy bond with the children in their blended family.
Plan Quality Time
One excellent way to bond with your stepchild is to plan a solo outing. This may seem intimidating at first, but it is a necessary step in building a quality relationship.
Here are some factors to bear in mind:
- Include an activity you can both enjoy, but do not force any more intimacy than the child is comfortable with.
- Do not attempt to bribe the child. This will set up an unhealthy dynamic where you will be expected to cater to every whim.
- Make conversation, but do not force the parental role. Allow the child to lead any discussion and be comfortable with silence if necessary.
- Be prepared to engage in regular outings. Relationships take time to build, and you will need to be patient while the child adjusts to your presence. Trust will build over time.
If your stepchild is not comfortable with going on outings or spending quality time together, it may be a matter of getting to know each other better in a comfortable setting. The best way to break this barrier to intimacy is to go straight through it. Do not feel rejected if the child refuses your attempts at communication and bonding. Keep trying to engage the child while respecting his or her personal space. The idea is to make the child feel welcome, appreciated and included — whether that child chooses to participate in activities or not.
Children will test boundaries. This is normal behavior, and it is especially true for a stepchild who wants to see how far they can push you. Practice patience, but do not be afraid to assert yourself and your opinions of any inappropriate behavior. By presenting a united front with the biological parent, the child will come to accept the new situation and show more respect to the person whom mom or dad has chosen as their new life partner.
Blending families is a slow process that pays big rewards. Patience and understanding create the foundation of strong emotional bonds between parents and stepchildren.