EFFECTS OF MARRIAGE
‘Being married’ confers a definite legal status on both husband and wife. This status affects many aspects of their lives and can last for the rest of their lives. It confers rights and duties on them both, stemming from their ‘common home and common life’. Moreover, the change in their legal status takes place from the moment that they marry. At one stage, a husband and wife were even regarded as one person in law. That person was the husband! A wife’s legal personality was said to have ‘merged’ into his. Over the past hundred years, there have been significant changes to the law in an endeavor to free wives from this legal doctrine which was described in the House of Lords as anachronistic and offensive. A wife is no longer her husband’s chattel and a marriage should be regarded in law as a partnership of equals. In general, questions of status, rights and duties concern the following:
Duty to live together
Husband and wife have a duty to live together. Of course, they are free to leave if the marriage proves unhappy. However, if one spouse leaves the other for good, this can be a factor in showing that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Duty to maintain
Spouses have a duty to maintain one another. Again it is usually only on divorce that this element of marriage takes on legal significance. Its significance is great, however. Along with responsibility for caring for their children, the duty to maintain one another can survive even the break-up of a marriage. It also can lead to protracted legal battles on divorce when all other issues between the couple have been settled.
Husband and wife are expected to have sexual relations. Failure to consummate a marriage can be grounds for annulment.
Take note: the sexual act must be voluntary and the wife must consent to it. A husband can be charged with rape if he forces himself on his unwilling wife.
Husband and wife are expected to be faithful to one another; adultery is still a main fact in showing the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage.
The wife can take her husband’s surname but she is not under a legal duty to do so. A wife’s right to use her husband’s surname survives his death and even a divorce from him. It is unusual for the husband to take his wife’s name though he can do so if he wishes. Occasionally, couples adopt both surnames. If a wife does change her name to her husband’s surname, she can do so informally, simply by using his name. However, married women have to inform institutions such as banks or building societies of their change of name, and could expect to be asked to produce their marriage certificates. You intend to take your husband’s name from the day that you get married. You have made plans to spend the honeymoon abroad. Can you apply for a passport in your married name before the wedding day? The answer is ‘yes’. You can apply for a British passport which can be post-dated with your married name although you will not be able to use your passport until the actual day of the wedding. In order to make the application, which can be at any point up to three months before you get married, you have to get two forms from the Passport Agency: Form PD2, which must be completed by the person who will be conducting the ceremony, and a correctly completed standard application form. You can opt either to be issued with a new standard 10-year passport or surrender your present passport or you can have your current passport updated with your husband’s name. The Passport Agency also issues an explanatory leaflet (ask for leaflet PD1).
Laws of being Married
EFFECTS OF MARRIAGE