Should you do a background check before getting married?

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Mark and Stacy met at a party and felt attracted to each other from the first time they talked. Their relationship moved really fast, and within a few months, they moved in together. At the end of that same year, they got married. Because Mark owned his home, it was an obvious choice to live there. The first months were fine, but Mark spotted some behaviors that made him worry. At first, Stacy drank just a few times a week, and while Mark did not drink with her, he believed it was normal. Things progressed fast from there. Collectors started calling and showing up at their home because Stacy spent a lot of money in bars and gambling sites. Finally, Stacy totaled Mark’s car in an accident while drunk driving. On top of that, she had several broken ribs, so she had to stay in the hospital for more than a week, and insurance refused to pay because she was driving under the influence. Mark filed for divorce a few weeks later, but because of common property law and the fact they were married, he was still responsible to pay well over $40,000 in damages and hospital bills. Because Stacy was not working at the moment of the divorce, Mark had to pay for alimony and lost half of his house. While this may seem a bit extreme, lacking information about someone before a contractual transaction poses some significant risks. And marriage is, in the end, a contractual relationship.

What Does a Background Check Entail?

People believe that a background check will reveal intimate facts about their lives, but that’s a common misconception. Background checks are mostly technical (not designed to uncover someone’s romance history or relationship mistakes) and center around legal matters such as criminal records and debt management issues. For example, checkpeople offers a report that includes: address history, criminal and sex offender records, marital status, social security number confirmation, and information on public social media sites. If Mark had used their services, he would have known that Stacy had several DUI’s.

A credit background record is also necessary before marriage. You want to know more about your future spouse’s credit history and financial management skills. After all, you are about to enter a relationship in which, in most cases, assets and responsibilities are shared. Again, if Mark had run a credit check on Stacy, he would have learned that she had filed for bankruptcy more than twice; she had a terrible credit score, and several collection agencies were after her.

How To Talk About it With Your Significant Other

While you can perform an online background check on someone without telling them, you’ll need their written consent for a credit report. Some people are afraid to ask consent for a background check as they fear they will offend the other person. But relationships, and especially marriage, should be built around trust. Open communication, from the beginning, is essential, and people who have nothing to hide are usually open to scrutiny by a neutral third party (such as a background check company). Some people even decide to sign pre-nuptial agreements in which assets are detailed, and ownership is clearly determined before marriage. This type of agreement also details what happens in the case of divorce, death, or other contingencies. Asking for a prenup is tricky and can bring arguments into the couple, but sometimes it is way cheaper than ugly divorce litigations.

Uniting your life with someone else’s can feel very romantic, but it is also an important responsibility and a legal transaction. Don’t let fear or shame get in the way of protecting yourself and your assets. Knowing who you are marrying, including their defects and shortcomings is the first step to a real “happily ever after.” 

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