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Marriage Laws

The legal requirements and rules around marriage can differ from state to state. This can include details on how to obtain a marriage license and the requirements to do so, as well as big picture issues such as who can marry whom. Prior to 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage rights to gay and lesbian partners, states were free to either allow or prohibit same-sex marriage. Other marriage issues determined through state law include age requirements for obtaining a marriage license without parental consent, whether there are exceptions for younger people with extenuating circumstances, and how marital property is construed.

Obtaining a Marriage License: Basics

In order to get married, you must first obtain a valid marriage license from your local county clerk's office. Depending on state law, you may have just a few months or up to a year in which to get married after a license is issued. The marriage license is then completed, signed, and returned to the clerk's office within a specified period of time. When you apply for a marriage license, each party will need to bring the appropriate photo identification (usually a state-issued driver's license), birth certificate, and death certificate or divorce decree (where applicable).

Blood Tests

The vast majority of states no longer require would-be spouses to receive blood tests in order to screen for close genetic relations. In fact, the only jurisdictions that do (for this purpose, at least) are the District of Columbia and Montana (female applicants only). New York, meanwhile, requires sickle-cell testing for African-American and Hispanic applicants.

Laws for Minors

Each state has a presumptive age of marital consent, typically 18 but 21 in Mississippi and 19 in Nebraska. Individuals younger than the age of consent (with limits) can still get married, but require parental consent in order to obtain a marriage license. The age limit for marriage with parental consent is 16 in most states, although Massachusetts allows females as young as 12 males as young as 14 to marry with parental consent and judicial consent. There has to a be compelling reason for the court to grant such a request, such as the presence of a child.

Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

In addition to age restrictions, most states prohibit certain marital arrangements. These include close relatives (specifics vary by state); having multiple spouses (polygamy); and marriages that were entered into either through fraud or under duress. Any marriage that was performed in violation of these restrictions may be annulled. Annulment is different than divorce in that the court nullifies the marriage as if it never existed in the first place, since it was never valid to begin with.

Marital Property Laws

Nearly all of the possessions acquired by either spouse in the course of a marriage is considered marital property. Marital property gets divided between the parties when they get divorced in accordance with state law. Most states use a system of equitable distribution to determine what is best for both parties given their earning potential, financial needs, length of the marriage, whether dependant children are involved, and other factors.

A few states continue to use the legal theory of community property, in which marital property (and marital debt) is generally divided in half. In addition to Puerto Rico, the following states recognize community property when dividing assets and liabilities: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Click on a link below to learn more about the marriage laws in your state, and visit the State Laws section for additional details.

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