Organize your LegalLife™ Guide on Family

Family Law

The following are some basic principles of family law to assist you with organizing your legal life when it comes to close personal relationships.

Living Together - Cohabitation Agreements

If you decide to live with someone without getting married, the best way to protect yourself from a legal standpoint is to prepare a cohabitation agreement. Co-habitation agreements can also be used in situations where you have one or more roommate.

A cohabitation agreement is a written agreement between two people or more people who are not married and who decide to share living quarters. It is used to establish rights and liabilities of the parties with regard to each party's real and personal property. It is also used to detail terms regarding shared debts and liabilities.

Common Law Marriage

A common law marriage means that you can live with someone for a certain period of time without formally getting married and yet, could still be considered legally married in the eyes of the law.

Not all states have common law marriages. Check with an attorney in your state to see if applicable.

Legal Requirements of Marriage

Getting married involves a formal process beginning with an application for a marriage license. As part of applying for a marriage license in your state, you and your fiance will most likely be required to take a blood test.

Most states also have restrictions on persons who cannot marry. While it seems a little obvious, you must be single to marry. Circumstances can arise when one person is awaiting divorce while intending to marry some one else. The second marriage cannot occur until the first marriage has been terminated.

In most states, you must be an adult or typically the age of 18 to get married. However, you can be under 18 and get married if you are able to obtain permission from your parent or guardian.

Premarital Agreements

If you are entering into a marriage and you have substantial savings or if you want to protect the property that you already own, like your own home, you may consider preparing a prenuptial or premarital agreement.

A premarital agreement is a written contract created by two people planning to be married. The agreement typically lists all of the property each person owns, as well as their debts, and it specifies what each person's property rights will be after they tie the knot. Premarital agreements often spell out how property will be divided and whether spousal support (alimony) will be paid in the event of a divorce.

Name Change

Although it is not required, many brides choose to change their last names once they get married. The need for a legal name change can result from marriage, divorce, adoption, or simply a desire to have another name.

There are a few different ways you can change your name. In some states, just the fact of using a name as your own has the effect of making it your name. You can also use a marriage certificate as proof of a name change if you decide to take on the last name of your spouse. However, the best method to legally change your name is to petition the court for a name change and to get a court order authorizing your new name.


Sometimes couples tie the knot and certain information comes to the surface that may have prevented a spouse from entering into the marriage in the first place. In this case, you may want to seek an annulment. An annulment is a court ruling that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never happened at all.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is a court ruling that states that a couple is not longer living together and it resolves matters concerning the marriage including property distribution, child custody and support, alimony and so forth.

A legal separation will not end a marriage, but it can give you and your spouse time to think about what to do next. It is also has the advantage of being a written agreement as opposed to mere oral promises.


A divorce is basically a court ruling or decree which ends a valid marriage.

To obtain a legal divorce, you will need to file a civil suit against your spouse.

Most states have certain waiting periods between the time a divorce is filed and the time it can be granted. If you are contemplating a divorce, it is advisable to contact an attorney in your home state who specializes in domestic relations or family law, as there will likely be many issues to settle in a divorce.


Sometimes, as part of a divorce, a spouse will ask for money to help maintain the standard of living he or she enjoyed while being married. This money is commonly called alimony, "maintenance," or spousal support.

You and your spouse should work out details of how you want to address the issue of alimony. If one party refuses to pay the other anything, a judge may order alimony as part of a divorce decree or could decide not to award anything at all.

Child Custody & Support

As part of a divorce proceeding, a decision will be made over which parent should have custody. Agreements regarding custody will often center around what is in the "best interests of the child." Sometimes parents will share custody of children.

Regardless of custody, if you are getting a divorce and you have children, both parents will be responsible for taking care of a child's financial needs into adulthood.

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