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Are Wedding Vows Legally Binding?

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Weddings are occasions when emotions run high as two people profess their love and commitment to each other in marriage. As romantic as a wedding ceremony may be, though, it is also a necessary legal requirement to validate the marriage.

Because vows are commonly exchanged between two people who are about to be married, it begs a few questions. Because marriage is considered a legal contract, are wedding vows considered provisions? Would breaking a wedding vow have any effect on a divorce later on?

The concern here is relevant and understandable, especially because often elect to write their own vows. Could someone unwittingly paint themselves into a corner by professing commitment to their spouse at the altar and later cheat on them? Could a broken vow to do the dishes more often come back to bite someone?

Wedding Vows Are Promises Spouses Make to Each Other

Wedding vows are promises that spouses make to each other. As a consequence, they are not legally binding, although they may have cultural or spiritual significance to the couple. California is also a no-fault divorce state, so one doesn’t even need to prove anything to file for divorce, least of all a “breach” or wedding vows.

This means that one should have no legal concerns for how wedding vows are worded or what they promise.

Pre-Nuptial & Post-Nuptial Agreements

A situation in which someone should be concerned about what they promise is when it comes to provisions of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. These contracts, created before or after marriage, can pre-determine certain issues that would inevitably arise during a divorce, particularly concerning finances.

California is a community property state, which means spouses share in their marriage’s assets and debts 50/50. Should a divorce arise, these will be divided according to that standard. If couples wish to plan for an alternative arrangement for how property is handled during divorce, the best way to do it is with a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

A pre/postnuptial agreement would be useful to protect family businesses, heirlooms, real estate, and even guard someone against their assuming liability for their spouse’s debt.

Unenforceable Provisions of Pre- & Post-Nuptial Agreements

Not everything can be pre-determined with a pre/postnuptial agreement. Matters that concern children must be decided by a judge based upon the child’s interests, so any provisions about child custody or visitation in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement would be totally unenforceable.

Likewise, frivolous provisions or contracts that protect one spouse at the complete expense of the other would also be thrown out by the court.

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