Do law and marriage go together as much as love and marriage?
Yes, because marriage is a contract - not only between two people but between the couple and the larger society, says Cele Lalli."It's not unromantic to learn all you can about the laws that affect marriage," says Lalli, editor of Modern Bride magazine. "After all, we love with the head as well as the heart."
The current issue of the magazine highlights some of the differences between marriage lore and marriage law.
For example, marriage is not an entirely private matter between two people. Marriage is a contract between two people and the government, since the legal status of the union can't be altered without the consent of the state. A landmark Supreme Court decision explains: "It is an institution in whose maintenance and purity the public is deeply interested. For it is the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress."
Don't for a minute believe that a woman has to take her husband's name to ensure the legitimacy of their children. Assuming the husband's name is a custom in the United States, not a law. If a bride retains her maiden name, neither the child's legitimacy nor birth certificate will be affected since the mother's maiden name appears on this in all cases. However, some states may request clarification if the child is not to carry the father's name.
Not everything taken into the marriage becomes joint property. The Married Women's Property Acts assure a woman the right to own property and maintain financial independence without her husband's control. Sole ownership is, of course, relinquished as soon as any assets are placed in a jointly held account.
And, if you think that each partner is responsible for his half of taxes due on a joint return, you're wrong. The law states that each partner is responsible for the entire debt. Each partner also is responsible for the return's accuracy.
So, says Lalli, "discuss all the issues, legal and otherwise, that concern you " before you say "I do."