12 Legal Questions to Think About Before You Get Married

If you’re thinking of getting hitched (or know someone that is), read this helpful info from Jennifer Hughes, a partner at the law firm Church Church Hittle + Antrim.

This story was created in partnership with Church Church Hittle + Antrim (CCHA)

When you decide to tie the knot, there are so many things to think about: the venue, your outfit, where to sit estranged family members—but you might also want to consider learning more about the impact that the legal status of being married will have on you and your future spouse. Whether you’re negotiating a prenup, concerned about keeping your finances separate, or navigating a name change, here are some answers to important legal questions from Jennifer Hughes, partner at Church Church Hittle + Antrim

Jennifer Hughes

Founded in 1880, CCHA is the oldest and most established law firm in Hamilton County, Ind., boasting an equal number of female and male attorneys. The firm serves clients throughout the state of Indiana, with offices in Fishers, Fort Wayne, Merrillville, Noblesville, Tipton, and Westfield. While it is always a good idea to obtain your own legal counsel before getting married, hopefully the answers to these questions will help you transition into your new life more smoothly and face fewer surprises after you’ve said “I do.”

My partner and I live in Indiana and will be getting married within the state. What will we need to do in order to be considered legally married?

I recommend that you contact your county clerk’s office to better understand the process or guidelines for your county or state. In general though, you will need to make an appointment with the clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license. For Indiana residents, the marriage license must be obtained in the county in which one of the applicants reside, and the ceremony can take place anywhere in Indiana. After obtaining the license, you will need to have a marriage ceremony, with a wedding officiant. Then, you will need to record your marriage license with the clerk’s office.  

Who can perform a marriage ceremony in Indiana?

A wedding officiant will lead the marriage ceremony, verify the information on the marriage license, and sign and complete the officiant’s section of the marriage license. There are a variety of people who can serve in this role. Some examples are a member of the clergy of a religious organization, a judge, the mayor (within his/her county), and the clerk of a city or town.  

How do my future spouse and I create a prenuptial agreement if we want to do so?

The best way to start that process is for each party to provide each other with full financial disclosures of your assets and liabilities. Then, you are best served by each of you obtaining your own legal counsel to help you achieve your goals in the premarital agreement.  

How do I go about legally changing my name after my marriage?

If you want to change your last name after marriage, you can accomplish this through the Social Security Administration. To change your last name, you will need to complete an application for a new Social Security card. You will also need proof of United States citizenship, proof of identity (a valid driver’s license, state issued identification, or U.S. passport), and a certified copy of your marriage license. The Social Security Office will process your application and mail you a new Social Security card bearing your new married name, with your same Social Security number.

Should my spouse and I file a joint tax return after we get married? Are there tax benefits to being married?

You should contact your CPA or other tax professional, who can advise you on the benefits, or not, of filing jointly after you are married.

What is considered marital property in Indiana?

Indiana is a “one-pot” state, meaning that all property (assets and liabilities) belonging to either spouse are placed in the pot, and all are considered to be the property of both spouses, subject to division in the event of a divorce. This includes property owned by either spouse before marriage; and property acquired by either spouse in his or her own right after the marriage, before filing for divorce, and that which is acquired by their joint efforts.  

How are shared assets and debts handled after marriage?

During your marriage, you and your spouse can manage your finances in any way that works best for the two of you. However, even if you keep all property and accounts separate, in separately titled names, your assets and debts will be considered marital property in the event of divorce, if you do not have a valid premarital agreement.  

I want to make sure that my current assets and savings account remain my own separate property even after I get married. Can I do that?

The best way to ensure that certain assets remain your separate property after marriage is to negotiate and execute a premarital agreement in advance of your marriage ceremony. The premarital agreement can identify specific assets and property that you wish to remain your separate property after your marriage. 

Am I responsible for my spouse’s credit card charges during our marriage if we keep separate accounts?

In the event of death or divorce, you could be financially responsible for your spouse’s debts and liabilities. The best way to ensure that your spouse’s debts and liabilities remain your spouse’s sole responsibility, and that your debts and liabilities remain your sole responsibility, is to negotiate these terms in a premarital agreement, in advance of your wedding.   

What happens to my existing retirement account or 401(k) after I get married?

This is a question you will want to pose to your HR department or the entity that holds your 401(k) account. You will need to consider a beneficiary designation, and what will happen to the account in the event of your death. In addition, you can maintain your 401(k) as your separate property if you decide to enter into a premarital agreement.  

Will I automatically receive my spouse’s military, Social Security, Medicare or disability benefits once we are married? If not, what do I need to do to become eligible to receive them?

Each of these benefits has different requirements (e.g. length of marriage) to allow a spouse to become eligible to receive such benefits after marriage, and even in the event of death and divorce. The best place to start is on the website for these agencies/entities and review their individual benefits and conditions for receiving such.  

Am I financially responsible for my future spouse’s children from a previous marriage after we get married?

While you personally may not be financially responsible for your future spouse’s children from a previous marriage, your marital finances will likely be impacted. I recommend that you have knowledge of what court ordered obligations, if any, your future spouse has to his/her children from a previous marriage. Is he/she obligated to pay child support? Is he/she obligated to carry a certain amount of life insurance or health insurance for the benefit of the children? You may not be personally obligated for these requirements, but they certainly will impact your financial planning and budget with your future spouse. 

You can learn more about CCHA’s full-service legal offerings on their website and on Facebook & Twitter

Stephanie Groves is an Indy-based freelance writer who graduated from law school but never got around to hanging up her diploma. 

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