Many people think the legal marriage requirements are confusing and overwhelming. Once you know your state's requirements, you can concentrate on the enjoyable parts of getting married.
Marriage requirements vary by state, but all legal marriages performed in one state are valid in others. This article answers some frequently asked questions about legal requirements for marriage.
What Are the Legal Documents Required for Marriage?
Each state has its own requirements for a marriage license. Your county clerk can tell you what you need. You need to present some or all these documents at the clerk's office:
- Driver's license or other forms of identification
- Social Security card or Social Security number
- Birth certificate
- Affidavit with proof of residence
- Passport or green card if not a U.S. citizen
- Blood test (not all states use these)
- Divorce decree (if previously married)
You need to pay a license fee to your county clerk for the marriage license. You can then proceed with your ceremony. The officiant must file your marriage certificate with the county recorder's office. The recorder will send you a certified copy of your certificate.
Are Blood Tests Part of Marriage Requirements?
Most states no longer use premarital exams or blood tests. Some still require blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases, rubella, sickle-cell anemia, or tuberculosis. There is no mandatory HIV/AIDS testing, but most states require information on test locations.
Can I Marry Anyone I Want?
Generally, any two consenting adults can get married if they wish. State laws define "consent" and "adult" according to their constitutions. Even if both parties consent, they must meet the state's legal requirements.
Age: Adults 18 years of age and over can marry without any restrictions. Minors under that age need parental consent to marry. Emancipated minors can marry with judicial permission. Some states do not allow marriages if the parties have more than a three-year age difference. This is to prevent predatory marriages or sex trafficking.
Marital status: Parties must be single before they can marry or remarry. Bigamy occurs when one party is still married and attempts to marry again. Bigamy is illegal, although if it was unintentional (if the divorce decree was not filed), a court order called a nunc pro tunc can correct the error.
Mental capacity: Both people must have the mental capacity to enter into a contract. If either party does not understand that they are entering a marriage, the marriage is not valid. Reasons for incapacity may include:
- Age. Minors must have the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial officers.
- Mental illness or disability. Mentally challenged people can marry with the permission of guardians or court officials.
- Intoxication. People impaired by drugs or alcohol can't consent to marriage.
Relationship: States all have their own incest restrictions. Usually, they prohibit immediate blood relatives from marrying. Some states have restrictions down to third cousins.
Gender: Same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015.
What's the Difference Between a Marriage License and a Marriage Certificate?
A marriage license is a document from the county clerk before the ceremony. A marriage certificate is a document that proves you're married (marriage certificates are not necessary to prove common law marriages).
Couples get the marriage license, hold the wedding ceremony, and then the officiant files the certificate with the county. The married couple will then receive a certified copy of the marriage certificate.
Most states need the spouses, the officiant, and one or two witnesses, to sign the marriage certificate after the ceremony. Some jurisdictions require a stamp from a notary public, and most states store marriage licenses with the state's vital records.
Where Do I Get a Marriage License?
You can apply for your marriage license at any county clerk's office in your state. The clerk may charge a small fee. Issuing the license may take a few days.
Your marriage license will expire 30 days after issuance. If this happens, don't panic; you can apply for a new one.
Most states have a waiting period from the date of the marriage license application until the date of your ceremony. The waiting period allows the parties to change their minds. For example, Florida residents must wait three days after applying for a Florida marriage license. In many states, the parties can waive the waiting period for good cause, such as one of the parties being deployed or only arriving in town the day before the wedding.
The following states have waiting periods:
- One-day wait period: Delaware, Illinois, South Carolina
- Two-day wait period: Maryland, New York
- Three-day wait period: Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington
- Five-day wait period: Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin
What if I Lost My Marriage Certificate?
Each state differs in the steps required to get copies of marriage certificates. Visit the website of the National Center for Health Statistics to learn where in your state you can write, call, fax, or email to get the marriage records you need. The clerk may charge a small fee.
Can Anyone Officiate a Marriage?
No. The county must qualify the officiant. But civil unions, which are non-religious, are performed by a judge, justice of the peace, or a court clerk. In some jurisdictions, such as the state of Florida, a notary public can perform marriages.
A member of the clergy conducts religious ceremonies. This is usually a priest, minister, or rabbi. Native American tribes can designate certain officials to perform weddings, or the tribal chief can perform the weddings.
Do We Have To Do Anything After the Wedding?
They're no legal requirements for marriage after the ceremony in most states. Most states consider the two married once the ceremony ends. The clerk of the circuit court, county court, or other official will file your marriage certificate and mail you a copy.
Some states still have consummation of marriage on the books, but this is mainly for annulment, not marriage. You will not have to prove you consummated your marriage in person. One valid reason for annulment is “impotence" or inability to consummate the marriage. You will not have to prove this in court.
In other states, the officiant must record the license with the county where you got married. Generally, a few weeks after your wedding, you will receive your marriage certificate in the mail. Even if the officiant fails to file the marriage certificate, the effective date of your marriage is the date on the certificate.
Need Help Complying With Marriage Requirements? Discuss It With an Attorney
Marriage is one of the most important relationships that you can enter. Along with the happiness of marrying your partner, you should know the rights and legal responsibilities of walking down the aisle. If you have questions about marriage requirements, discussing the issue with a family law attorney can help you take the necessary steps is helpful.