What are the Legal Benefits of Being Married?

Posted on: 7 mins read
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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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For many people, getting married is a way of showing commitment to their partner and is often seen as the natural next step in a romantic relationship. But being married also brings several legal benefits.

While the legal benefits of marriage are rarely the reason for a couple tying the knot, it is important to think about their financial implications for your future. Usually, once you are married, your finances and assets will be shared, so it is important to understand exactly what this means for you, your partner, and any future children that you may share.

If you need initial advice, one of our expert Family Law Solicitors will be happy to help you.

We have outlined below just a few of the benefits that come with being married in England and Wales.

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Inheritance Rights

Married couples have an automatic right to a partner’s estate when they die under the Rules of Intestacy, which apply if the partner who died didn’t leave a Will. Should you leave a Will but it is not valid, then the Rules of Intestacy will decide how your Estate should be divided, and not your wishes as outlined in your Will.

If the Estate is worth £322,000 or below, the surviving partner will inherit the entire Estate. However, if the Estate is worth over £322,000, then it will be divided between the partner and the children. In this case, the spouse will inherit £322,000, plus half of the remaining Estate. The children would then receive half of the value above £322,000. For example, if the value of the Estate is £500,000, the spouse would receive £411,000, leaving £89,000 to be given to the children.

The Rules of Intestacy only apply if you were married at the time of your partner's death. If you were not married, you would not be able to claim any of the Estate.

If you’re married and have children, there will be limits on how much your husband or wife can receive. But if you’re unmarried, the Rules of Intestacy will not recognise your relationship unless it was outlined in a Will.

 

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility involves certain rights and powers around making decisions affecting your child, these include:

  • Choosing where your child goes to school
  • Disciplining your child
  • Consenting to medical treatment or accessing medical records
  • Taking your child abroad
  • Deciding the religion your child should be brought up in

When a baby is born, the mother will be given Parental Responsibility automatically. The most common ways for fathers to get parental responsibility for a child include being married to the mother when the baby is born or being named on the birth certificate.

If you are separated from the other parent of your child, they must include you whenever they are making important decisions about the child and/or their lives. Although, they do not need to include you when making routine decisions. For instance, the other parent does not need your permission regarding trips but you must agree to big decisions such as relocating.

 

Step-Parent

Step-parents don’t automatically have parental responsibility but they can acquire this by getting a Child Arrangements Order. Additionally, there are other routes for step-parents who would like to secure Parental Responsibility.

Another option for a step-parent is to choose to adopt the child, which would then give them the same parental rights as a birth parent.

Alternatively, everyone who has parental responsibility for the child (i.e. birth parents) may agree to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement. This agreement would need to be signed by all relevant parties and then authorised by the Court.

When the court awards a step-parent with Parental Responsibility, this gives the step-parent the same duties as a birth parent. For example, the step-parent must then be included in all major decisions about the child's life. It is important to note here that a step-parent may only apply for Parental Responsibility if they are married to a birth parent of the child.

 

Marriage Tax Breaks

One of the tax benefits that is available to married couples is the Marriage Allowance. To qualify, one partner must be a non-taxpayer and the other a basic rate taxpayer.

If you don’t pay tax, you can apply to transfer 10 percent  (£1,260) of your Personal Tax Allowance through HMRC and your partner will get a tax credit equivalent  by reducing their tax by up to £252.. This allowance only needs to be applied for once and will transfer automatically every tax year. (6th April to 5th April).

Married couples also benefit from not having to pay Inheritance Tax. For instance, if your partner died and left their whole Estate to you, you could claim any money and assets without any direct tax consequences.

This principle recognises the financial support that spouses offer each other throughout their lifetime. Not having to pay Inheritance Tax, ensures minimal disruption to the surviving spouse.

The current Inheritance Tax threshold is £325,000. This means that any Estate that is valued below this will not be subjected to Inheritance Tax. However, any unused portion may be transferred to the surviving spouse, doubling the Inheritance Tax to £650,000.

 

Joint Ownership of Assets

If you decide to get married, it is likely that you will make joint purchases and investments with your partner such as buying a house or opening a savings account. For instance, buying a house or opening a joint savings account.

In the event of a separation between a married couple, assets are usually divided in a way that is “fair” and takes into account both partners’ needs and the needs of any children that they may have together - this is called a Financial Settlement.

A Financial Settlement can be agreed upon without the need to go to Court. In these types of cases, you may be able to come to an agreement after a period of negotiation through solicitors. If such an agreement is not possible, it will then fall to the Court to assist with reaching a resolution.

If you do end up going to Court to reach an agreement, then the Court will look to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973, Section 25. This will take into consideration if there are any dependent children. If there are young dependents, then the Court will put their needs and welfare first, above all else.

Here is a list of other assets that may be split during a divorce:

  • Pensions
  • Savings
  • Investments
  • Property

 

Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement

If you are concerned by the idea of sharing assets, you can set out what would happen if you ever were to separate in a Prenuptial or a Postnuptial Agreement. A Prenuptial Agreement is agreed upon before the marriage starts, whereas a Postnuptial Agreement is done after the event.

While this is not the first thing most people think about when getting married, these agreements can give additional security to both partners, so they are important to consider.

Both Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements set out the finances of the marriage and will help to protect your assets from before the marriage, any business assets, and also protect you from your partner’s debts. For example, if your partner has a significant amount of debt, this agreement can protect your assets from being used to pay off those debts.

 

Key Takeaways: The Legal Benefits of Being Married

Inheritance Rights:

Married couples automatically inherit a partner's estate under the Rules of Intestacy.
The surviving spouse receives the entire estate if it's worth £322,000 or less.
For estates over £322,000, the spouse gets £322,000 plus half the remaining amount, while children receive the other half.


Parental Responsibility:

Married couples have automatic parental responsibility.
Unmarried partners may acquire it through various means, such as being named on the birth certificate, adoption, or a court-approved agreement.
Parental responsibility involves decisions on education, discipline, medical matters, travel, and religious upbringing.


Marriage Tax Breaks:

Marriage Allowance benefits couples where one partner is a non-taxpayer and the other is a basic rate taxpayer.
Allows the transfer of 10% (£1,260) of the non-taxpayer's Personal Tax Allowance to the taxpayer, reducing their tax by up to £252.


Inheritance Tax Exemption:

Married couples don't pay Inheritance Tax on assets passed between them.
The Inheritance Tax threshold is £325,000, but any unused portion can be transferred to the surviving spouse, effectively doubling the threshold to £650,000.


Joint Ownership of Assets:

Joint purchases and investments are common in marriage, such as buying a house or opening savings accounts.
In the event of separation, assets are divided fairly, considering the needs of both partners and any children.


Financial Settlements:

Assets like pensions, savings, investments, and property may be part of a financial settlement in case of divorce.
The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973, Section 25, guides the court's decisions, prioritizing the welfare of dependent children.


Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements:

These agreements outline asset distribution in case of separation.
Prenuptial agreements are made before marriage, while postnuptial agreements are made after.
They protect pre-marital and business assets and can shield partners from each other's debts.


Understanding these legal benefits is helpful for couples considering marriage, as they can impact financial and family matters in the long run. Consulting a Family Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar for advice is recommended for those dealing with these legal aspects of marriage.

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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

References

Gov.uk (2011). Parental rights and responsibilities. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/parental-rights-responsibilities/who-has-parental-responsibility.

Pollard, E. (2022). Step-parents and Parental Responsibility. [online] Family Law Partners. Available at: https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/step-parents-and-parental-responsibility#:~:text=A%20step%2Dparent%20can%20only

Gov.uk (2015). Marriage Allowance. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/marriage-allowance.

GOV.UK. (n.d.). Transferring unused basic threshold for Inheritance Tax. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/transferring-unused-basic-threshold-for-inheritance-tax.

Clarke, V. (2023). Financial Settlement In A Divorce: All You Need To Know! 🏠💔. [online] Elite Law Solicitors. Available at: https://www.elitelawsolicitors.co.uk/financial-settlement-in-a-divorce/

Legislation.gov.uk. (2022). Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. [online] Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1973/18/section/25

GOV.UK. (n.d.). Money and property when you divorce or separate. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/money-property-when-relationship-ends.

www.gov.uk. (n.d.). You’ll need to get legal advice to work out the net value of the estate and to find out who will inherit what. - Intestacy - who inherits if someone dies without a will? - GOV.UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will/y/england-and-wales/yes/after-jul-2023/yes

Citizens Advice. (n.d.). Who can inherit if there is no will – the rules of intestacy. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/death-and-wills/who-can-inherit-if-there-is-no-will-the-rules-of-intestacy/#:~:text=If%20there%20are%20no%20surviving

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