Pre-Engagement Legal Prep: What You Need to Know
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and with it almost always comes a flurry of marriage proposals. If you or your partner are considering taking the plunge, it’s important to understand the legal considerations that should be taken into account before any official engagement takes place. In today’s article, I’ll outline what couples need to know about pre-engagement legal preparation so that they can do everything possible to set themselves up for marital bliss (and success).
Understand Your State’s Marriage Laws
Before you get engaged, it’s important to understand the marriage laws in your state. Though marriage is a federal right, each state has its own specific regulations around things like age requirements, waiting periods, types of weddings or marriage ceremonies that are acceptable, and consent for marriage laws. For example, if you live in South Carolina, both parties must be 18 years old (or, if younger than 18, must have parental consent), and there is a 24-hour waiting period between applying for a license (assuming it’s approved and granted) and getting married. Knowing the specifics of your state’s marriage laws will help you better plan out your wedding timeline and ensure that your ceremony goes off without a hitch.
Determine if a Pre-Nuptial Agreement is Necessary
A pre-nuptial agreement (sometimes called a “prenup”) is an agreement between two people who are entering into a marriage that outlines how their assets will be divided should they decide to divorce at some point in the future. All too often, couples think they don’t need such an agreement because they don’t have any assets or any significant wealth when they first get married – but that is not always the case.
If you or your partner have investments, business interests, real estate holdings, etc., prior to marriage, it’s always safest to clearly identify what assets each of you are bringing into the marriage. Also, these assets can (and often do) appreciate in value over time. In other words, throughout the course of a marriage, a financial asset you owned long before you met your beloved might gain significant value and become something your spouse will want to stake a claim over if the marriage fails. A pre-nuptial agreement helps protect both parties from any potential financial loss should things not work out down the road.
To determine if a pre-nuptial is necessary requires having some detailed and honest conversations with your partner. Both of you should discuss your individual financial situations and also your financial expectations of any possible marriage. This may seem like a serious conversation to have even before an engagement has been proposed, but it’s better to know this information before anyone makes a sizeable investment in an engagement ring or other wedding preparations.
Once you both have some idea of what’s at stake and you have a better understanding of whether one or both of you might think a pre-nuptial agreement isn’t necessary, it’s time to get some individual guidance – especially if the two partners have different expectations for the financial foundation of any potential marriage. Scheduling a pre-engagement consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area will allow you to ask questions privately about the future you’ll face if you have a pre-nuptial signed versus if you decide to forgo insisting on one before marriage.
Choose a Financial Power of Attorney
Your financial power of attorney (POA) is responsible for managing your finances if you become physically or mentally unable to do so yourself. They will also make decisions on your behalf regarding taxes and investments if you are incapacitated in some way. This isn’t always your spouse – especially in the engagement phase of a relationship. When you have significant or growing assets to protect, it’s likely in your best interests to make sure it’s not a romantic partner. This will protect you from your partner using your accounts and property in any way that would permanently hurt you in the event something unforeseen happens to you after the engagement but before the wedding.
Choosing someone as your financial POA is a very important decision. You should choose someone you’ve trusted for many years, who understands your wishes and your values, and who knows how you’d want your property and assets dealt with if the worst-case scenario were to happen to you. Always make sure you notify and discuss this role with whomever you choose before making it official with the legal paperwork so you’re assured they are willing to serve in this capacity.
Discuss Budget for Engagement Ring and Wedding
When you get engaged, the costs of the engagement ring and wedding ceremony can add up more quickly than anyone first believes. That’s why it’s important to sit down together with your partner and discuss how much money you’re comfortable spending on these things. This will be a great way to attempt to avoid financial stress in the relationship before it even starts.
If you and your partner have vastly different ideas of what a reasonable budget for these things should be, it may be time to explore ways to reconcile your differences in a healthy way. However, if your partner is unwilling to consider budgets you believe are reasonable, it may be time to rethink the long-term nature of your relationship. One of the main causes for divorces, behind infidelity, is mismatched financial expectations within the marriage. Very few things cause as many fights between married couples as when they disagree about how they each manage money.
Reminder to Protect Your Relationship While Protecting Each Other’s Futures
Even if one partner has more money than the other, it’s important not to put too much emphasis on this process all at once. After all, this is the person you’ve likely spent considerable time building a relationship with that has led to thoughts of building a future together. It’s important to remember that a great marriage is based on a partnership between two people who share equal rights and responsibilities. When discussing finances as part of an engagement and/or pre-nuptial agreement, try to establish equality within each decision that you make as a couple. Don’t allow one person to take control over all decisions related to finances or any other aspect of the relationship, even if that person happens to have “more” in any areas of pre-marital assets.
Ultimately, the best way to protect your relationship is to make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to legal and financial matters during the engagement and throughout your future together. Don’t wait until after the wedding is right around the corner, or worse, after the wedding, to start having conversations about these important topics. The goal is not only to protect each other’s futures but also to ensure that everything will be done in a respectful and considerate way for each person involved. This is the best way to ensure your relationship remains strong as you move forward together. If you work on these things as soon as you see a long-term future together, you can help set up a successful marriage that will hopefully last the remainder of your lives.
Getting ready for an engagement doesn’t only refer to picking out rings or finding the right wedding venue. There are plenty of legal considerations couples should think about and discuss with each other beforehand as well. Understanding your state’s marriage laws ahead of time ensures that everything runs smoothly before, during, and after the wedding itself. Determining if you and your partner should have a pre-nuptial agreement drafted and signed helps protect both parties during their future union. And finally, choosing a financial power of attorney for each partner allows peace of mind knowing that assets will be managed appropriately should anything happen to either party before the marriage happens.
By addressing each of these things even before a proposal of marriage is secured, couples can start their journey together with confidence knowing their future is secure — no matter what may come down the road!
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as pre-nuptial agreements, divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. Our firm is well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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