Psychology and Relationships

There are 3 crucial facts you should know before entering a marriage contract, says celebrity divorce attorney Laura Wasser

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As a divorce lawyer, Laura Wasser has represented Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears, and Ariana Grande. Celebrity or not, she says, most people make the same mistake when entering a marriage: they don't understand it's a legal contract.

And, like with any legal contract, you'll want to know what getting out of it looks like.

"The biggest mistake you can make is not knowing the laws in your state," Wasser, who is the chief of divorce evolution at, says.

"The fact is you're entering into a contract when you get married. If you don't know the laws regarding your assets, or what you make, earn, create during marriage that, to me, is a big problem." 

Here are three questions you could and should just Google before getting married, according to Wasser. But keep in mind that state laws are complex and rules may apply on where you get married and where you live, if those are different places.

1. Am I getting married in a community property state or an equitable distribution state? 

To know how your assets will be divided should you get divorced, you need to find out if the state you live in follows a community property system or an equitable distribution system. 

In an equitable distribution state, all is not necessarily split 50/50. Instead, assets, earnings, personal property, and debts between the spouses are divided based on what a judge believes is fair.  

In a community property state, a judge may decide what items each spouse gets to keep and which they must split. Items that both spouses have equal claim to are called "community properties." Community properties typically include everything that either spouse earned during the marriage and all property that was acquired with those earnings.

Most states use an equitable distribution system, but nine, including highly populated states California and Texas, follow the community property system. 

"In California, if you're a painter and you paint a painting during your marriage and then sell it for $1 million after your divorce, your former partner gets half of those earnings," Wasser says. 

In California, if you're a painter and you paint a painting during your marriage and then sell it for $1 million after your divorce, your former partner gets half of those earnings.
Laura Wasser
divorce attorney

2. What are the spousal support laws? 

Courts usually weigh a number of factors when deciding how much spousal support, also called alimony or spousal maintenance, the paying party needs to provide. Income, health, earning potential, and age are all evaluated. 

Still, each state has its own limits or nuances. 

In Texas, for example, laws are "stingy" for supported spouses, Wasser says. Regardless of how much a paying spouse earns, support cannot exceed $5,000 per month or 20% of their average monthly income, whichever is smaller. In New Jersey, if your marriage lasted more than 20 years you might be eligible to receive permanent spousal support. 

3. What are the date of separation laws in my state?

The date of separation is a key data point when dividing property. If an asset was acquired after the date of separation, it will belong to one spouse as opposed to both.

Generally speaking, the date of separation is the day when at least one spouse decided to end the marriage. However, it is recognized differently depending on what state you live in. 

In North Carolina, the date of separation is when both partners start living in separate residencies. In California, it can be when one spouse communicated to the other that they intended to end the marriage. 

Divorce is already a draining experience. Being familiar with the laws can help you to know what to expect during the separation.

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