Take Advantage of Laws that Affect Couples
A vast body of rules silently and invisibly goes into effect when a couple says “I do” or moves in together. Most couples aren’t even aware of these rules that govern their marital or living together, financial, and parenting relationships, as well as their relationships with third parties. Here are some areas in which your legal relationships are defined by law, and some events that can force the issue.
by Family Law Expert Ed Sherman
If you are in a long-term relationship and do not have an enforceable written agreement, rules of law define and govern many aspects of your relationship, including:
You might go for years without encountering an event that forces your legal relationships to your attention, or something might happen tomorrow. In our family law practices, one of the most common things we hear from clients who have just had the law explained to them is, "I wish I had known that a long time ago!" Or, "If only I had known that before (whatever) happened." Don't let this happen to you. Here is a list of just some of the many events that might bring the rules into play, and require that you know how the law works.
- Who owns income earned by either of you during the relationship
- Who can manage money and assets
- Who owes debts incurred by either of you during the relationship
- Who owns property acquired during the relationship
- Who can be covered by health insurance
- Who can authorize medical or mental health treatment
- Who can visit in hospital or jail
Law books are filled with cases of unhappy people who found out after the fact that the rules affected them in a way they had not thought or wished. It's much better if you don't wait in ignorance for some defining event to spring up and force the rules to your attention. If an event comes up that puts the rules into play and the matter were to end up in front of a judge, the judge would look first to see if you have an enforceable agreement that applies. An agreement is not enforceable unless it meets an array of legal requirements. I show you how to do this in my books The Couples Contract for a Lasting Relationship and Legal Essentials for California Couples.
- Filing income tax returns
- Large debts or a risky business
- Seeking health insurance
- Buying or renting a place to live
- Refinancing your home
- Having or adopting a child
- Applying for financial aid for a child
In many cases, if you learn what the law says about a particular aspect of your relationship before anything happens, and if you don't agree with the law, you can tailor the rules to fit your circumstances by creating an enforceable legal agreement that specifies how you choose to handle these issues. Tailoring your legal relationships by written agreement is how you can take advantage of relationship laws that affect couples, to better suit your needs and preferences.
Copyright 2006 Ed Sherman
Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, couples law expert, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. He is also the founder of Divorce Helpline and Couples Helpline. With more than a million books sold, Sherman has saved the public billions of dollars in legal fees while making divorce go more smoothly and easily for millions of readers. In his latest books on couples law, Sherman applies his vast experience to showing couples how they can avoid divorce court completely, and keep their relationships strong. You can order Sherman's books at www.nolocouples.com, www.nolodivorce.com or by calling (800) 464-5502.