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What, actually, is marriage?

What, actually, is marriage?

This is going to seem unromantic but, the reality is, marriage is a legal arrangement. The wedding is where you have the lovely dress, friends and family celebrating, big cake, first dance and the rest of it, but marriage is a legally binding contract.

What does marriage mean legally?

It ties a couple together in the eyes of the law in a number of ways. Most significantly perhaps, when a couple ties the knot, their assets – and liabilities – are considered to be joint. This does not change unless a marriage is dissolved through divorce.

The union of assets, for instance, will extend to things like:

  • Bank accounts
  • Property
  • Savings
  • Pensions
  • Debts
  • Inherited wealth

It is incredibly important that people understand this fact before walking down the aisle. There are even calls for a compulsory information session for all before they get married to ensure they fully understand the consequences, and go into the union with their eyes open.

Once people understand the marriage contract and how it is enshrined in UK law, they could be more predisposed to getting a pre-nuptial agreement. This can help to safeguard assets taken into a marriage in the event of a divorce further down the line. If not, it will all be considered as joint assets to then be split as part of any settlement.

What are the legal advantages of marriage?

Of course, there are pros and cons to this legal arrangement of being married. It is for many a benefit and joy to have your assets amalgamated, for purchases from then on being jointly owned, and for you to share all that you have with your partner.

There are other benefits to being married also. Many co-habiting couples assume that they have this “protection” for purchases when they are living together often for years. However, the law currently does not recognise this. It is only through being married that the couple are seen to have joint assets. This has caught many couples living together, assuming the myth of commonlaw husband or wife is the truth, ruing the decision not to tie the knot.

In the “cons” column for being married, well I guess you could ask any couple and they would have a thousand suggestions! The reality though is that you could take on the debt of a partner or find that long-treasured possessions, valuable assets or significant inheritances are lost – in part or in whole – if you were to split further down the line. You are effectively relinquishing control over your own assets. Again, a pre-nup can help safeguard this but they are still seen by many as unromantic.

It is important to note that if a couple does end the legal contract of marriage, a former partner can still have claims over the ex’s assets – even those accrued after divorce – without a consent order in place drawing a line under their finances. It is important to ask a specialist family lawyer about this if you are thinking of divorce.

Lawyers advice for someone getting married

Advice for a couple about to marry

So there you have it. Marriage is a contract in law that can only be dissolved through divorce in the UK.

Karen Agnew-Griffith
Divorce and family lawyer Thetford

Blog Author - Karen Agnew-Griffith

Karen Agnew-GriffithKaren Agnew-Griffith

Karen is a divorce and family lawyer with Woolley & Co, based in Norfolk, but she acts for clients across the UK, including Suffolk, Hertfordshire and London, and worldwide.


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