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A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay or Not

27 May Posted by in • Guest Writers | Comments Off on A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay or Not
A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay or Not

Much as location, location, location is the secret to real estate success, communication, communication, communication is the key to a successful marriage. Family means different things to different people. Make sure you and your beloved are on the same page before you make a lifelong commitment. Get clear on the basics so that there will be fewer surprises later.

It is wise for couples to discuss the three big D’s directly: death, disability, and divorce. What would happen in the event of any of these? To make this process less daunting, I have dug through some deal breakers in my divorce files and come up with a few questions to ask before taking the marital plunge.

  1. Do you expect to keep your incomes and bank accounts separate or commingled?
  2. What is your annual income? Do anticipate stopping employment or asking the other spouse to do so as a consequence of marriage or having children?
  3. Do you want children? If so, how do you imagine us having children? Are you open to adoption or assisted reproduction?
  4. Do you believe in monogamy?
  5. What are your assets? What do you own and where?
  6. What kind of debt do you have? How much and to whom?
  7. Have you ever been sued? Do you have any judgments against you?
  8. Do you expect that a parent or other relative of yours would ever move in with us? Do you expect to provide financial or other support to a parent or relative?
  9. How have your prior relationships ended? Would counseling have made a difference? Are you open to counseling?
  10. Do you have any long-term health issues? What surgeries have you had? What medications are you on? Have you had or do you currently have any substance abuse issues?
  11. Have you ever committed a crime? Been arrested? Served time in jail?
  12. Are you current on your tax returns and payments?
  13. Do you anticipate growing old in the town where we live now or do you hope to end up in a different setting?
  14. What is your retirement plan? When do you plan to retire? What do you hope to do when you stop working?
  15. Is there anyone else you want to provide for at your death? 

Some conversations seem like they might be unnecessary. For example, how much does your soon-to-be spouse earn? You might think you have the income picture clear, but in this economy, which increasingly relies on independent contractors, the answer can be less obvious. If your partner is a 1099 employee, you will want to have a chat about annual totals and fluctuations. These money-centric discussions can be awfully uncomfortable, but it is far worse not to have the conversations at all. It is better to have more than a general sense of how much money is coming in, how much money is spent and how, and how much is being set aside for retirement. I find that many of the healthiest couples I work with have a periodic sit-down to review these financial considerations. If you would rather stay in the dark than broach the topic, do so at your own peril.

Couples who are good communicators, who have these difficult conversations and memorialize their understandings in writing, are far less likely to separate. Maybe it has something to do with the willingness to broach difficult subjects, or maybe it’s just luck. Still, it seems clear those who have the courage to face these challenging topics do better in the long run.

Everything always seems rosy when a couple is headed to the altar. People cannot imagine anything bad happening, especially divorce. But, all couples considering marriage, gay and straight, need to consider what happens if the relationship ends. Even if you are married, educate yourself about its consequences. It is never too late for loving couples to have a conversation about their future, nor is it ever too late to consult an attorney about how the marriage would be treated at death or divorce.

Before I Do is for couples who have been coloring outside the lines and now are considering making their relationship legal. It explains what marriage means—and does not mean. It spells out all the implications of marriage in a straightforward, easy-to-follow style. For younger gay and lesbian people who are beginning to accumulate assets and just starting their first serious relationship, Before I Do shines a light on the basic issues of marriage and outlines the steps necessary to ensure both parties are protected to the full extent of the law.

Please do note that Before I Do is an educational tool. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Family and estate laws vary by state. This book highlights general issues, but I urge you to investigate further.

Elizabeth Schwartz is an attorney, activist, author of Before I Do: A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay and Otherwise (The New Press, 2016),  co-chair of the national board of SAGE and member of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ National Family Law Advisory Council

Copyright © 2016 by Elizabeth Schwartz. This excerpt originally appeared in Before I Do: A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay and Otherwise, published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

www.epochalips.com

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