While romance is at the heart
of most wedding planning, prudence should also be a factor, say two local attorneys. ‘My advice to those about to be married is to make an appointment immediately with your local family law attorney,” says Donna J. Smeidt of The Family Law Firm of Donna J. Smeidt:
“The reason the bride and groom should independently consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney in advance of the wedding is to ensure that each are acutely aware of Texas law pertaining to the management and control of separate and community property, the legal effect of consolidating accounts to combine cash on hand, transferring titles to vehicles, incurring debt with your spouse and purchasing a home together. All of these issues become a fact of life immediately following the wedding, and it is imperative that you are aware of what you are getting into financially and have discussed these issues frankly with your betrothed prior to the big day.”
Although pre-nuptial agreements are frowned upon and considered unromantic, Smeidt says couples should want to ensure that they have given the union the best possible chance of surviving in a world where marriages frequently face difficult odds. “The management of marital finances becomes of much greater importance if this is not your first marriage,” she says. “Those with children from prior relationships should candidly talk about current financial obligations owed to their ex-spouse or their children, as well as discussing estate planning with their fiancé. It is of supreme importance that wills are updated or drafted as a result of the change in life circumstances of the new marriage.”
Smeidt says the most overlooked and underestimated issue
that can tear a marriage apart is the blending of children from previous marriages, as well as integration of third persons into a couple’s co-parenting plan.
“When you marry someone with children, you are marrying that person’s ex-spouse and their new spouse whether you intended to or not. Without a mature and well-thought out plan as to how to introduce and incorporate all of these additional people into your children and your new spouse’s life, your new nirvana shall quickly disintegrate into a living hell. Your family law attorney has many resources to share with you, including mental health specialists trained in this particular area. A little planning ahead of time to ensure that you and your spouse have a strategy for dealing with these challenges can be the glue that holds your new family together forever.”
David Cook of Harris Cook LLP concurs:
“Before you get married, you should make sure all of your legal affairs are in order. Especially if one or both of you have been married before, or if one or both of you have significant separate property assets, you should seriously consider a premarital agreement. The Texas Family Code allows you and your spouse the opportunity to enter into a premarital agreement (commonly known as a ‘prenup’) to contractually agree on many issues, including the characterization of property, division of property upon divorce, and spousal support.”
Parties can decide to keep
certain things separate (like income from separate property) and still share their personal earnings as community property, or they can agree to keep everything separate so that no community estate is created at all. Prenups, when written correctly, can protect the rights and obligations of both parties.”
Cook says you will also want to make sure that you have a will in place that expresses your wishes for your new family unit.
“Even if you think you don’t have enough property to make a will worthwhile, a will can save your family money, time and aggravation in trying to deal with situations that may come up,” he says. “Often, people have the most trouble trying to collect the smallest estates, where if a will would have been in place, the unnecessary estate problems could have been avoided.”
Cooks says you also should be sure to update all of your beneficiary designations on things like life insurance and employee benefits, such as your 401k plan.