Family Law: Legal Issues to Consider When Getting Married

Here is a checklist of potential legal issues that you may encounter if planning to marry in Wisconsin. 

Marriage License Application
Wisconsin residents must apply for a marriage license in the county where at least one of the parties has resided for at least 30 days prior to the date of applying for the marriage license. Both the bride and groom must file the application in person at the Dane County Clerk's office. To complete the application, you will need your social security number, proof of residence, a certified copy of your birth certificate if you are under the age of 30, a copy of any divorce judgments, annulments, or death certificates terminating any prior marriages, parental consent if you are ages 16 or 17, the correct spelling of all parents' full names, the date and place of the ceremony and the name of the officiant. Be aware that it may take up to six full calendar days for the clerk's office to issue your license. The license is valid for use for 30 days. If you reside outside of Dane County, you should contact the local county clerk's office about the requirements for your marriage license.

Name Change
If one or both of you decides to change your name, you will need to update your name on items such as: your driver's license, social security card, bank accounts, credit cards and employment records. This labor-intensive task is fairly simple. Start the process by taking a certified copy of your marriage certificate to the Department of Motor Vehicles to revise your driver's license. Next, take your new driver's license and marriage certificate to the local social security office and apply for a new social security card. Finally, use the revised forms of identification to change your name on the rest of your accounts and records.

Review your insurance polices and beneficiary designations. You and your future spouse should compare your benefit plans and determine how the marriage affects your insurance coverage.

Bank Accounts
You may consider adding your spouse's name to your bank accounts or credit cards that you intend to share. However, you should understand that jointly held bank accounts and credit cards will allow both persons free access to the accounts and creates legal liability for the debts incurred by use of these accounts.

Financial and Estate Planning Documents
It is advised that you review any financial and estate planning documents with an attorney and accountant in light of your new status. You and your spouse may consider executing a health care power of attorney as part of your estate planning documents. The health care power of attorney gives the named agent the authority to make a broad range of medical decisions on behalf of the principal. Absent a power of attorney for health care, guardianship will be required to assert such power, even if you are the spouse of the incapacitated individual.

Marital Property
Generally, Wisconsin law provides that any property acquired during your marriage is marital property, or property that is jointly owned by both spouses. In certain situations, the couple may decide to alter the classification of their assets and enter into a marital property agreement. Talk to your attorney for more information.

Former Marriages
If you have previously been married and are receiving maintenance (commonly referred to as "alimony"), be advised that the payments will cease upon your remarriage. Other aspects of the divorce settlement could be affected as well.

Review your tax situation. If you will be married on or before December 31, you may legally file joint returns for that calendar year.

 Copyright 2004, Murphy Desmond S.C., All Rights Reserved