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Marriage Law Overview

Marriage represents a lifetime commitment between two partners. While this typically involves mutual romantic interest, marriage is also a legal contract that confers special rights and responsibilities to the parties involved. For instance, married partners are not bound by hospital visitation restrictions and are eligible for certain survivor benefits when the other one dies. Additionally, the possessions of married partners generally are shared (and divided as such when the marriage ends). This section covers the basics of marriage law, including marriage license requirements, state-specific marriage license information, the meaning of marital property, and more.

Marriage Laws at a Glance

Marriage laws are determined at the state level, although federal courts have intervened throughout history to ensure equal protection under the law. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that states cannot restrict the institution of marriage to just heterosexual couples under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

State marriage laws determine the age at which an individual can get married with and without parental consent; whether blood tests are required; how marital property is divided in the event of a divorce; and other considerations. State laws also have criteria for what constitutes an invalid marriage and thus eligible for annulment.

Marriage License Requirements

State requirements for obtaining a marriage license typically include waiting periods, either before or after receiving the license, prior to the actual ceremony. For instance, South Carolina has just a one-day waiting period to receive a license after applying but Wisconsin requires couples to wait six days. Texans must wait at least three days after receiving a marriage license before getting legally married. These waiting periods may seem inconvenient but they're intended to ensure that the individuals planning to get married are really ready to make this commitment.

In addition, marriage licenses typically expire after a certain amount of time has passed, ranging from 10 days (Oklahoma) to one year (Arizona). In some jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, marriage licenses never expire.

Legal Requirements for Getting Married

In order to qualify for a marriage license, you and your partner (in most cases) will both have to go to the county clerk's office near you and pay a fee in addition to filing an application. You will be asked for photo identification (usually a driver's license), proof of residence, and a birth certificate. If you have been divorced or widowed, you will have to bring a copy of the divorce decree or death certificate. Virtually all states have ended the requirement for a blood test, which was once a common method for preventing incestual marriages.

Partners can get married at the court house in most cases, but also have the option of holding a separate ceremony presided over by someone legally qualified to do so (such as an ordained minister).

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