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Real or Reality Show? What Makes a Marriage Legal?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

When Kourtney Kardashian married Travis Barker at a Santa Barbara courthouse in May 2022, it was for real. In a secret ceremony, Kardashian, a star in the popular reality TV show "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," wed Barker, best known as the drummer for Blink-182.

But weren't they just married in Italy last weekend? And wasn't there another wedding in Las Vegas last month?

After last month's Grammy Awards, Kardashian and Barker held a marriage ceremony at the One Love Wedding Chapel. But, despite being officiated by an Elvis impersonator, it was not a legal marriage because they lacked a marriage license. And even though they were already legally married in California, they held a ceremony in Italy.

A valid marriage involves a valid marriage license and ceremony. First, you must apply for a marriage license in your state by completing an application at your local clerk's office. Your state has specific requirements to grant a marriage license.

Common Requirements for a Marriage License

  • Age – Most states have an age requirement, usually 18, to marry. However, there are exceptions for minors who have parental consent.
  • Marital Status – You are free to marry, meaning you are legally divorced (not legally separated).
  • Capacity – You are of "sound mind," meaning you have sufficient mental capacity to understand what you are doing. Someone who has dementia or is drunk might not meet this requirement.
  • Blood tests and Consanguinity– Some states have consanguinity laws, a fancy word for being related by blood, prohibiting family members from marrying. But most states no longer require blood tests before granting a marriage license.
  • Waiting Period – Some states have a one to five day waiting period between obtaining the marriage license and holding the ceremony. However, a state may waive this requirement for a compelling reason, such as military deployment.

Second, you must hold a marriage ceremony. Contrary to what the bridal industry says, you can have small marriage ceremony, provided there are two critical features: an officiant and witnesses.

Requirements for a Marriage Ceremony

  • Recognized Officiant – Ceremonies can be either religious or civil. A clergyperson such as a priest, minister, or rabbi performs a religious ceremony. A judge, county clerk, magistrate, or justice of the peace performs a civil ceremony. Some states allow ordinary people to get ordained as a minister. Even in a few states, such as Florida, a notary public can officiate a wedding ceremony.
  • Witnesses – Most states require one or two people to witness the ceremony and sign the marriage certificate.

After the ceremony, you or the officiant files the certificate with the county. Finally, the county issues a certified marriage certificate, the proof of a legal marriage.

Property Rights

A legal marriage conveys certain property rights between spouses. For example, California is a community property state. Therefore, California treats any assets or income acquired during the marriage as owned jointly.

Upon death, divorce, or annulment, the state divides the marital property 50-50. Presumably, the celebrities negotiated a prenuptial agreement before their ceremony setting out their own property distribution agreement if the marriage dissolved.


As a legal spouse, you can receive spousal benefits such as Social Security benefits. Or receive benefits from your spouse's employer, pension plan, or military benefits.

Inheritance Rights

As a married person, you are entitled to an "intestate share" of your spouse's estate. Therefore, if your spouse leaves you nothing in their will, your intestate share will be one-third to one-half of your spouse's estate.

Common-Law Marriage

A few states recognize common law marriage where a couple holds themselves out to be married. For example, they act as a married couple, live together, take the same last name, refer to each other as their "spouse," and hold assets and property together. In those states, if a couple can prove that they meet the common law requirements, the state recognizes them as legally married.

Civil Unions

Before the 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage, many same-sex couples formed civil unions. States recognized civil unions to allow same-sex couples to confer benefits to one another. However, civil unions do not convey federal benefits and are not recognized in all states.

In Conclusion

Marriage is a serious union that has legal ramifications. An attorney specializing in family law helps couples with prenuptial agreements, marriage requirements, and divorce.

So, is Kardashian-Barker marriage real? According to California law, it is. But whether it's a Kardashian publicity stunt is anyone's guess.

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