What Being Married Means in Certain Legal Situations in Florida

Thu, Jul 24, 2014

General Legal Issues

 Some rights reserved by Vladimir Yaitskiy“Till death do you part.” Some of us took this a little more seriously than others when we said it. What does it mean? There is a whole religious and social side that we won’t even delve into here, but we’ll give you some ideas of what being married means in certain legal situations in Florida (and perhaps the United States in general).

First, you can get divorced these days…so until death do you part doesn’t have to mean forever. You can legally separate from your spouse in many ways. You can divide the property, debt, etc… and figure out who gets what. If you owned a car or a house when you were married, things can get tricky. Florida has equitable distribution, which means the law wants the husband and wife to end up with similar economic assets at the end of the marriage. This means divvying up money, property, assets, debts, etc. If one of the spouses gets to use the home, and it was in both of your names, the mortgage company won’t just remove the other spouse’s name so easily. There might need to be refinancing, which may not happen right away, if ever. So the other spouse will show that debt on their credit report…and often the companies will not care if this is in name only, because they need to be sure they get their money. Be prepared that this situation can cause problems down the road (as would a car in a similar situation).

When it comes to bankruptcy, one spouse can file without the other one. Sometimes this happens because of a new marriage or because the spouses never jointly owned much. One person might have all the debt in their name, whether by design or accident. So then, a spouse can sometimes file separately. Be careful with this though, because it really matters if you have any property jointly owned or if you have bank accounts or investments in joint names. Be sure about where all this stands and advise your attorney.

If one spouse dies, social security might be affected for the other spouse. This can even happen after a divorce, depending on the length of the original marriage. Social security benefits can transfer to the spouse, as can some disability and retirement benefits. We wrote about this a while back, in this blog post.

If one spouse is arrested, the other one isn’t necessarily affected. This would, of course, depend on the specifics of the crime. This is all a detailed area of criminal law, but something to keep in mind.  If this happens to you, make sure you know your rights and always consult a qualified criminal law attorney. In fact, you might want your own attorney in these instances if you think there is any possible way you could be connected to your spouse’s crime.

Lastly, being married doesn’t mean your spouse is automatically able to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Ways to plan for this event include a health care surrogacy, living will, power of attorney, and more.

Attorney Christopher D. Smith is a Lakewood Ranch, Florida attorney with SmithLaw Attorneys. He concentrates in bankruptcy, civil litigation, probate, estate planning, and elder exploitation cases in the Sarasota and Bradenton area. Call 941-202-2222 to learn more and to ask about our free consultations that are available for certain types of cases.

Image:  Some rights reserved by Vladimir Yaitskiy

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