Your Family and the Law – Marriage

Marriage is a contract, but not an ordinary one. Because of the importance of the family, society sets rules and imposes duties and obligations that usually do not apply to purely private agreements.

A marriage is valid everywhere if valid in the state where it takes place. Each state sets its own rules, which usually include a license, a blood test, a waiting period, and a ceremony performed by a clergyman or judge.

Some marriages are prohibited because of blood relationship, age, prior marriage, or physical or mental incapacity.

Annulments

Marriages that do not conform to the rules are not automatically void. Unless incestuous or bigamous, a marriage will be valid unless one or both parties takes legal action and has it annulled within a reasonable time.

If an underage person marries, the child’s parents can have the marriage annulled. Annulments may also be obtained on grounds of fraud if, for example, one party expressed a desire for children knowing that he or she could not or would not have any.

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Common Law Marriage

Newspapers often use the term “common-law marriage” to refer to the state of any couple living together; such use of the phrase is not accurate. A common law marriage is an agreement to marry and live together as man and wife without going through a ceremony.

In states where they are permitted, common law marriages are exactly the same, legally, as any other marriage. The difficulty lies in proving the agreement and the intention of the parties, especially if one or both is dead and there is a dispute over inheritance.

Most states no longer recognize common law marriages. However, they will recognize a common law marriage that was valid at the time it was entered into, or one made in a state that does recognize them.

The legal court

Gavel and american flag, symbol for jurisdiction

Changing a Name

A married woman often wants to continue using her maiden name; she may, for example, have established a useful professional reputation under that name. Using a maiden name is perfectly legal. In fact, anyone can use any name he or she wants, so long as there is no intent to defraud.

You could not, for example, use the name of a well-known person in order to borrow money. Getting a court order to change your name makes it official, but it is not necessary.

State laws. Some states do require women to use their married names or driver’s licenses or other documents. The state can do this, as it is responsible for public records. In these states, a woman must either comply or go to court and have her name officially changed.

Updating Records

Most women do take their husband’s names. Those women should immediately notify the Social Security Administration to avoid any possible confusion in the records, as well as employers, insurance companies, department stores where they have charge accounts, and anyone else whose records should be changed.