Marriage: An Exposé Beyond the Ring
The Legal Side of Marriage
Marriage reminds us of the American Dream: It affirms love, companionship and security that provides stability. Marriage promises eternal devotion, companionship and financial security until death (or divorce). Marriage legally assures that you’ll try to stay faithful and provide financial support to your spouse when you go to the courthouse and sign an official license.
Though it’s often associated with pretty pebbles and weddings, marriage is a legal contract, and after you sign a marriage license or are in a common law marriage (when a couple is living together but are not legally married), you and your spouse are considered a joint unit that pays taxes and owns property by your local government. You’re sharing lots of assets and liabilities as a newly married couple, including taxes.
When a couple has been legally married they can no longer file as single individuals, which gives them two options: filing married jointly or filing married but separate.
- When a couple files jointly, they share a tax return form. Incomes, deductions and credits are combined to determine what tax bracket they, as a unit, belong to.
- Filing jointly gives couples with children and dependents access to tax credits, which offset tax debt, like the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax credit and the Family Tax.
- Couples with similar incomes are subject to the marriage penalty. Filing together may push the couple into a higher tax bracket making their tax liability or debt greater.
- If either spouse files incorrectly, they are both held responsible by the IRS. Both spouses are responsible for any additional taxes assigned by the IRS.
- Any debt before the marriage is the responsibility of the spouse who accrued it. However, such debt is a concern for both parties because it affects the tax return the couple receives.
- A couple filing separately does not receive a shared tax income. Their deductions, credits and incomes are assessed separately, and they belong to separate tax brackets.
- Couples that file separately have access to tax credits. However, they receive less on the Child Tax Credit or nothing at all from the Child and Dependent Care tax credit.
- Parents that file separately have the ability to claim a child or dependent if their dependent is living with them, they have not lived with their spouse for six months, maintain their own home or has been legally separated.
- Couples who have similar incomes can file separately and avoid paying more on their taxes because they’d be placed in different tax brackets and have different tax liabilities.
Getting married comes with advantages that benefit and protect both spouses during their marriage. These privileges protect spouses from testifying against one another in court (or backfire, in some cases of domestic abuse).
Privileges and Rights
- Communication privilege – In cases where spouses could testify against one another, any communications made between them in private are considered privileged and therefore protected, unless it can be proved otherwise or the privilege is waived by the consent of both spouses.
- Testimonial – A spouse can refuse to testify for or against their spouse. Or, a spouse can prevent their spouse from testifying against them.
- For domestic violence cases or other criminal charges, Georgia law states a spouse cannot be compelled by his or her spouse to refuse testimony. In other words: a husband or wife cannot prevent their spouse from testifying in a domestic abuse court case.
- You promise faithfulness, continual love and financial security when you get married. If a spouse does not hold themselves to this responsibility, there is actually legal grounds for divorce. Georgia is not a fault based state, meaning that a spouse doesn’t have to prove abuse, adultery or abandonment to get a divorce.
Marital rights are legal rights that involve how spouses share property and money, how their spousal benefits affect both parties, and how a widowed spouse and children will be supported in case of death.
- One of the rights afforded to married couples is the right to hold shared property. Georgia, however, is not a community property state and when a couple is divorced, the state helps to divide the property between the two spouses.
- A spouse is entitled to inherit their significant other’s property and money. In the state of Georgia, property left behind is split between the surviving spouse and their children.
- In the case of a wrongful death, a spouse can sue and the money is awarded to the spouse or, if they have children, split between the surviving spouse and children.
- Spouses have the right to provide medical consent. Georgia provides spouses and domestic partners visitation rights and medical consent (this includes common law marriages which Georgia recognizes if they were finalized before 1997 or are recognized in another state).
- Spouses receive benefits from social security, pensions and public assistance.
- You can receive your spouse’s social security benefits at age 62 and if you are still married. It is also possible for a divorced spouse to receive benefits unless they have been written out of their ex’s will.
- Part of the paperwork filed when you are married includes placing your spouse on pension paperwork. According to the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia, spouses or the estate are designated as pension beneficiaries.
Finding the man or woman of your dreams may have more financial detriment than just a wedding bill. If your partner’s finances are less than stellar, it can have a negative effect on your future finances. A prenuptial agreement helps to protect married individuals’ finances and property during and after marriage.
- A prenuptial agreement resolves how property is divided or who pays alimony in the case of a divorce.
- It determines what will be done to income and property gained during the marriage so that there may be minimal issues at the end of the marriage.
- The agreement is only refused if it was achieved under duress, threat or fraud.
- Prenuptial agreements do not, however, cover:
- Alimony – which in the state of Georgia is determined by divorce courts, who also decide how much will be given by measuring marital standard of living and the spouse’s contribution to the marriage.
- Personal preferences such as chores and other non-financial matters.
- Waiving the right to alimony.
Marriage is much more than the ring, a cake, the dress and the vows. The legal institution of marriage assures that people are legally responsible to and for their spouses. It protects loving partners from fraud and abuse, and it helps to provide for each other after death. Although marriage can provide companionship and emotional support, at its core it is also a contract made to provide financial and legal support and protection for both spouses.
Now that you’re a little more aware of the legal side of marriage, we wish you the best of luck in life and love.
Editor’s Note: The information above is intended to be generally educational for Georgia residents; it should not be used as actual legal advice, or in replacement thereof. Individuals with particular or specific questions should seek legal counsel.