Legal Marriage Requirements FAQs

Many people think the legal marriage requirements are confusing and overwhelming. The reality is that once you know what's required in your state, the steps are simple, leaving you more time to concentrate on the more enjoyable parts of getting married.

Although the marriage requirements vary by states, all legal marriages performed in one state must be recognized by all other states. This article answers some of the most frequently asked questions regarding legal requirements for marriage.

What are the legal documents required for marriage?

You need to obtain a marriage license from your county clerk and pay the clerk a fee. As long as you and your spouse meet the requirements, your marriage license should be granted. You can then proceed with your ceremony. The officiant has the duty of filing your marriage certificate with the applicable recording agency in your county. If they don't do, it doesn't invalidate or nullify your marriage; it just may make it harder to document your marriage.

Are blood tests part of marriage requirements?

Many states have done away with mandatory premarital physical exams or blood tests, but some still require blood tests for venereal diseases, and a few also test for rubella, sickle-cell anemia, and tuberculosis. There's no mandatory HIV/AIDS testing, but most states require that marriage license applicants be offered such tests or information on test locations.

Can I marry anyone I want?

Most states require both parties to be 18 years old or older. Otherwise, they must obtain consent from a parent or judge. The most common situation for consent is pregnancy. In these circumstances, the judge often requires proof that the couple can financially support themselves.

People who are already married, even with a lengthy separation, can't get married until they get divorced.

Both people must have the mental capacity to enter into a contract. If either person can't or doesn't understand what it means to be married because of mental illness, drugs or alcohol, or other issues that affect judgment, then that person lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage.

The two people can't be blood relatives. Sometimes they can't be closer than third cousins. Many states allow first cousins to marry if they are of an elderly age and no longer able to conceive.

Same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015. Prior to that ruling, same-sex marriage was left mostly to state law.

What's the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate?

A marriage license is a document that you must obtain from the county clerk before you get married. A marriage certificate is a document that proves you're married.

Typically, couples obtain a marriage license, hold the wedding ceremony, and then have the officiant files the certificate in the appropriate county office within days. The married couple will then receive a certified copy of the marriage certificate.

Most states require both spouses, the officiant, and one or two witnesses, to sign the marriage certificate. This is often done just after the ceremony.

Where do I obtain a marriage license?

You can usually apply for your marriage license at any county clerks office in the state in which you want to be married. Some states require you to apply in the county clerks office in which you want to be married. Most states require a small fee, and receiving your marriage license usually takes a few days.

Typically, your marriage license will expire 30 days after it is issued. If this happens, don't panic; you can apply for a new one. However, most states imply a waiting period from the date of the issuance of your marriage license until the date of your actual ceremony. The idea behind the waiting period is to allow the parties to change their minds. This waiting period can be waived 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 wait periods:

  • 1 day wait period: Delaware, Illinois, South Carolina
  • 2 day wait period: Maryland, New York
  • 3 day wait period: Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington
  • 5 day wait period: Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin

What if I lost my marriage certificate?

Each state differs on the steps required to obtain 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 for the documents you need. There's likely a small fee, between $5 and $10.

Can anyone officiate a marriage?

No. The officiant must be qualified by the county. However, civil unions, which are non-religious, are performed by a judge, justice of the peace, or a court clerk. Sometimes, people will be given temporary legal authority to perform marriages by a judge or a court clerk. Weddings that are religious ceremonies are conducted by a member of the clergy. This is usually a priest, minister, or rabbi. Native American tribes can designate certain officials to perform weddings, but usually the tribal chief performs the weddings.

What are the legal requirements of marriage ceremonies?

One of the marriage requirements is that the marriage ceremony must be performed in front of witnesses and an officiant, qualified by the state,(priest, rabbi, or judge). Civil ceremonies are conducted by judges or county clerks and government officials. No state authorizes ship captains to perform marriages. At least two witnesses are required to sign the marriage certificate.

Do we have to do anything after the wedding?

They're no legal requirements for marriage after the ceremony in most states. A few states require consummation of the marriage through sexual relations, but that's not the norm. Most states consider the two married once the ceremony ends.

In other states, it is the responsibility of the officiant to make sure the license is recorded with the county where you were 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, you're still considered married.

Need Help Complying with Marriage Requirements? Discuss 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 also be aware of the rights and legal responsibilities that come along with walking down the aisle. If you have questions about marriage requirements, it's helpful to discuss the issue with a family law attorney who can help you take the necessary steps.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution