Legal Requirements for a Marriage License & Ceremony

Posted on 06/25/2010
In Family Law



Most people know that to get married, you have to get a license first. But how do you obtain a marriage license? Are there any other legal requirements to be completed before a marriage is valid?

The legal requirements to perform a marriage ceremony differ from state to state and certainly from country to country. Read on for some common legal marriage requirements!

Legal Marriage License Requirements

A license is arguably the most important legal requirement for marriage. To get a marriage license, a couple must apply together at a city or county clerk’s office and fill out an affidavit with the following information:

  • Names
  • Address or addresses
  • Cities and dates of birth
  • Social Security numbers
  • Marital histories

Many states used to require blood tests before issuing a marriage license. The purpose of the blood test was to check for any sexually transmitted diseases or other ailments that could be harmful to any future children. Most states no longer have blood tests as a legal requirement for a marriage license.

Proof of age is also a legal marriage requirement. You must be 18 to file for and receive a marriage license, but some states will issue marriage licenses to people as young as 16 with parental consent.

Once the marriage license is issued, the couple can get married anywhere in the state, but there are time restrictions and limitations. A couple must often wait to get married, usually between one and five days, though some places — including Las Vegas — have no waiting period. The marriage license is invalid after 60 days.

Marriage licenses also cost money. The fee to obtain a marriage license is commonly between $25 and $65.

Legal Marriage Ceremony Requirements

Marriages are performed by civil appointees or ministers of religious denomination that are authorized by circuit courts to celebrate the rites of matrimony. Some states allow a couple’s family member or friends to be ordained online and perform the ceremony, while other states prohibit this.

The person officiating the marriage must sign the license along with the newly wedded couple and forward the completed document to the court, usually within five days of the ceremony. Many states require at least two witnesses to be present for the ceremony and sign the marriage license. If the documents are not filed with the court, there will be no legal record of the marriage at all.

How Could a Marriage Be Prohibited?

It is fairly easy to meet the legal requirements for marriage, but there are a few instances where a marriage may be prohibited. Possible reasons include:

  • No formal dissolution of an earlier marriage of one or both parties.
  • Both parties are in some way related — although some states do allow marriage between cousins, adopted siblings or other distant relatives.
  • One of the parties lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage.
  • Both parties are the same gender. Same-sex marriages are only allowed in a handful of states.

Are Legal Requirements the Same for an International Couple?

Couples from outside the United States can be married legally in the US. Documents like birth certificates or divorce decrees from any prior marriages will most likely be necessary, as will certified translations of these documents if they are in another language. Most countries will want a certified copy of your marriage certificate and an apostille from the secretary of state. Many secretary of state offices will arrange to send certified copies and apostilles directly to the foreign government.

US couples can also choose to get married in another country. When planning a wedding either close to home or abroad, make sure you account for all of your legal marriage requirements!


2 Responses to “Legal Requirements for a Marriage License & Ceremony”

  1. Steph@best wedding locations Says:

    Make sure to fill in the forms with the right information or you might end up with an erroneous document.

  2. Mary Says:

    ALWAYS check that the officiant is licensed. Ask for their Registration number with the state, or a copy of their certificate, even if temporary. The marriage is not valid if the officiant is not registered.

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