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What is marital status?

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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Marital status refers to the lawful recognition of the agreement between a man and a woman to be husband and wife. Along with the legal marital status of being married, the husband and wife acquire rights and obligations to their respective spouses. The rights and obligations of marriage begin when the couple is legally married and may continue, to a certain extent, even after the termination of the marriage.

Marital status is one of the basic issues involved in a lawsuit for divorce (marital dissolution) or an annulment (nullity). At the end of a marital dissolution or nullity proceeding, the legal status of husband and wife is terminated and the spouses are returned to the legal status of being unmarried or single persons. Marital status is automatically terminated upon the death of one spouse and the survivor becomes an unmarried person once again.

A person's marital status can have a significant impact on his or her legal rights. For example, while a person is married, he or she may not enter into a valid marriage agreement with anyone else. To do so would be considered polygamy, which would mean that the marriage is  not legal. Polygamy is also a crime in the U.S. In addition, in many states, a person's marital status when he or she acquires property is significant. For example, in "community property" states, any property acquired while two people are married is viewed as "community property. Community property is split 50-50 in divorce proceedings, except in very rare limited exceptions or if there is a prenuptial agreement or other written contract in place between the parties. Inheritance laws also recognize the status of being married as a special legal status. There may be specific rules against disinheriting a spouse and a spouse is given priority over assets if you die intestate (without a will). It is also possible to give monetary gifts or leave money to your spouse without incurring the same tax liability you would incur if you were not married to that individual.

Because a person's marital status is important, when two parties are getting a divorce, there are times when one of the divorcing spouses wishes to bifurcate the divorce proceedings. This occurs if the two cannot agree on all aspects of property and custody division, but if they wish to be returned to the status of being legally single before those issues are fully resolved. To understand more about marital status or how it impacts your rights, you should strongly consider speaking with family law attorney or a divorce attorney.

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