Marriage Law

There are very few federal government marriage laws. States have their own rules for what constitutes valid marriage, applications, and marriage licenses.

In this section, you'll find helpful information and tips on many issues related to marriage. This section also has a helpful "getting married" checklist, which will help ensure that your marriage is legal.

Use the links below to learn more about specific topics, or keep reading below for a general overview of marriage law.

Are you thinking about getting married? Do you need a prenup? Is your marriage contract valid? Where do you get a marriage license? Is same-sex marriage legal in your state or the state where you want to have your wedding? How do health benefits work for your spouse?

It seems like there are a million legal questions that can cloud your marital bliss. But don't worry. FindLaw's Marriage Law section has many resources covering all your marriage questions.

Topics discussed in this article:

  • How to get a marriage license
  • Marriage rights
  • Marital status
  • Marriage benefits (social security and alimony)
  • Prenuptial agreements (prenups)
  • Annulments
  • Community property
  • Foreign spouses
  • Common law marriage
  • State marriage license requirements
  • Name changes after marriage

Marriage Licenses and Paperwork

States generally require a minimum age to get married. In several states, people under 18 years old will need parental consent (permission) to get married.

The rules depend on where you reside or where you decide to get married. While marriage licenses are typically issued by the local county court where you live, they may also be issued by the county court where the marriage ceremony will take place. You typically have to provide some personal information and pay a fee when you apply for a marriage license. Licenses may be valid for a limited time and impose a waiting period.

Same-Sex, Common Law, and State Marriage Laws

Although states have the right to decide who can marry, the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges decided that same-sex marriages are legal, valid marriages. This court decision was based on both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Before the Supreme Court said same-sex marriage was legal in Obergefell, the Defense of Marriage Act was the law. The Defense of Marriage Act did not recognize same-sex marriages as valid. This law denied same-sex couples certain benefits, including social security benefits.

A ceremonial marriage is a formal process that requires a wedding ceremony and a marriage license. A common law marriage is when a cohabitating couple does not go through the formal ceremonial process. Nonetheless, they hold themselves out as a married couple.

To have a common law marriage in the states that recognize them, you generally need the following:

  • Cohabitation (to live together)
  • To have had sexual relations
  • Representation of yourselves as a married couple to the public

It's important to note that a majority of states do not recognize common law marriages. If a couple has a valid common law marriage in one state and moves to another, they will typically be required to end the divorce via a traditional divorce process. A family law attorney can assist you in determining the best course of action.

Marital Property and Money Questions

How will marriage impact your money, property, and debt? In a majority of states, marriage means that your spouse's income and debt incurred during the marriage now become yours, and vice versa. There are also issues that can arise with bank accounts, finances, and investments. In the unfortunate event of a divorce, some states treat marital property differently. In community property states, property obtained during the marriage will be split evenly. In states that do not have a community property law, the split could be up to the parties or the court.

How Prenup and Family Law Attorneys Can Help

A prenuptial agreement (prenup) is a premarital agreement that provides for a division of property should the couple divorce. They are not required by law. But prenups can be useful to decide property, finances, spousal support, alimony, and child support in the event of a divorce. It's easier to discuss difficult topics ahead of time. Provisions in a prenup that address child custody and domestic violence issues are not binding on a judge.

Many people can get married without hiring a lawyer. If you have questions about prenups, marriage requirements, or any legal issues, a family law attorney can help.

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