Marriage is a contract between men and women to form a legal, economic, and emotional union. Marriage requires a license from an authorized state official followed by either a religious or civil ceremony.
The idea of marriage and the joining of individuals and property have changed through time and nuances are dictated by state laws. Even the legal definition of marriage is changing in some states and many countries to include same-sex couples in their definition.
Common Law Marriage
Some states in the U.S. still recognize Common Law or "by habit and repute" marriages in which the couple has lived together, combined financial resources, and declared themselves to be married - though there have been no witnesses, ceremony, or license - as legally binding. Common Law is not as common as it once was and is harder to prove than before.
Civil Unions are legal unions that have some rights and benefits similar to marriage, but does not carry all meaning and legal protections. Civil unions are also called domestic partnerships.
Same Sex Marriage
Same-sex marriage is currently a hot social and political topic for many. Currently only two states in the US recognize same-sex marriages as legally binding marriages - Massachusetts and California. Four other states recognize legal relationships as civil unions, but not as marriage.
Marriage also includes merging of assets and property of the couple. Unless otherwise specified, at the time of marriage, all property becomes property of both under the concept of Community Property. For those who bring significantly more to a marriage than the other, or if both parties have significant assets they wish to keep separate in case of dissolution, pre-nuptial agreements are binding contracts to secure those assets.
If you are considering marriage and have legal questions surrounding this age-old institution, you should speak with a family law attorney near you.
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