A wedding ceremony is without a doubt one of the most romantic occasions of your life but there is also a legal aspect to it, with partners agreeing to become each other’s “lawful wedded” wife or husband.
So aside from the ceremony itself, what other legal implications are there to getting married and should you be considering these in the run up to your big day?
We aksked for some clarification from Amanda Owens, the Head of Family Team at Steeles Law Solicitors.
The majority of couples will cohabit before marriage but what happens to the home you own together – or perhaps in separate names – after you become spouses?
Although we may not want to contemplate separating from our partner in the future, it is always helpful to know what would happen if the worst happens. It is therefore a good idea to clearly set out your ownership of the property at the outset, to ensure that both parties would stand to receive the correct percentage of the net proceeds on sale or transfer in the future.
If the family home (i.e. that occupied by a married couple) is registered in the sole name of one of the parties, the other party should consider registering their interest in the home to protect themselves.
Property can also be held jointly. Joint tenants is where, in the event of the death of one of the parties, the property will pass entirely to the sole remaining survivor. The other way to own property jointly is as tenants in common. This means that the ownership is defined, for example 60% to one party and 40% to the other. Ownership in this way is appropriate where, for example, one of the parties has contributed more to the purchase price than the other and wishes to record the fact. Ownership in this way should be supported by a Declaration of Trust, which sets out the appropriate shares. It is advisable that each party also prepares a Will in such circumstances.
At Steeles Law, we recommend that everybody should make a Will, whatever their age, wealth or family circumstances. It may not be a very cheerful or comfortable topic but it is an important one.
If you do not make a Will, the “Intestacy Rules” set out who is entitled to deal with your affairs after your death and who receives your money and property – and this may not necessarily be who you want.
For example, depending on the value of money and property in your sole name, your spouse (if you are married) may not receive all of your money and property on your death. Whilst you are unmarried, even if you are cohabiting, your partner has no right to anything under the Intestacy Rules.
Once you have made your Will, you can and should continue to update it if your family or financial circumstances change. It is especially important that you take the time to update any existing Will after your wedding, as marriage revokes existing Wills.
When drafting your Will, we would always recommend that you engage a qualified legal adviser. “DIY” or online Wills can seem a financially attractive alternative but it is important to remember that your Will is a legal document, which will be relied upon in the event of your death. Sadly, we often receive enquiries from family members who have been left to deal with the consequences of a poorly drafted Will, which can lead to upset and in the worst cases, expensive disputes over “who gets what”.
Pre-nuptial agreements are made before a marriage and seek to organise the couple’s financial affairs during the relationship, and to determine the division of property in the unfortunate event of divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.
When you get married, your assets can become joint assets and, unless specifically protected, can be considered for division within divorce proceedings. The purpose of a pre-nuptial agreement is to limit the potential claims on the assets of one party to the marriage, and to avoid costly court proceedings over “who gets what”.
Pre-nuptial agreements are used by couples who have assets to protect, particularly where one party has substantially more than the other and their assets are not equal. This could perhaps be the case where one party already owns property or a business, or has savings to protect.
Or perhaps you are getting married later in life and have already built up assets in your own right prior to the marriage. In this situation, the pre-nuptial agreement would record the parties’ intentions in the event of divorce and can provide that the parties will retain the assets they each owned prior to the marriage.
If you do have any furter questions or need help regarding any of the topics above you can always contact Amanda at Steeles Law for a no obligation appointment.