The dress, the bridesmaids, controversial speeches and the party. Once the wedding is over, what does marriage actually mean legally?
People often don’t realise that in its simplest form, Marriage is a legally binding contract between two people that ties you together financially. That means assets and liabilities are considered to be jointly owned. You might expect assets to include bank accounts, property, pensions, savings and often inheritance. If you have any jointly held debts such as credit cards, mortgage or loans, they too are the responsibility of you both. Personally held bank accounts and loans are not considered joint liabilities while you are married but this changes is if you decide to get divorced.
The answer is yes! It’s important to make a new Will when you get married. Any existing Will will not be valid and therefore your wishes for your estate in the event of your death may not be considered as your spouse is likely to inherit everything. This is particularly relevant for any inherited wealth or assets acquired before marriage and especially if you or your partner have children from previous relationships.
Before you think about tying the knot, you might like to think about whether you, or your child, should be protecting assets or future inheritance. A pre-nup is a legal document (although not strictly legally binding in a court) created between a couple before a marriage, which outlines how their assets will be divided between them in the event of a divorce.
Pre-nups can ring fence some assets or future inheritances and prevent any financial surprises – should you get divorced. Many couples are marrying at an older age meaning that they are likely to have progressed further in their careers and amassed property, pension or other personal assets, or indeed retired. Often parties each have separate children and want to ensure their assets are preserved for their own children.
Before 2018 only same sex couples could enter into a civil partnership, but now anyone can regardless of their sexuality. A civil partnership allows those people who do not want or believe in marriage to formalise their financial arrangements giving them greater security especially if the relationship breaks down.
There is still a misconception that just because you live with your partner and share financial responsibilities that they in some way become a ‘common-law spouse’. This simply does not exist and can for example mean that if one of you owns the property, but both have been paying the mortgage and bills, that on separation the property can be split. This is not the case. The non-owner has no rights to the property, unless they are married or in a civil partnership.
Pensions, along with property and inheritance are largely considered marital assets which means that in the event of your death your spouse has rights over it and vice versa.
As mentioned above pre-nup and post-nups can help to ring fence your previously owned assets, especially if you are looking to provide for your children from another relationship. Many blended families are taking this route so that pre-existing assets are treated differently from any acquired during the new marriage.
Would you like to know more?
Please contact one of our expert lawyers in the Family Law sector here. Or contact us directly using our contact form below.