Legally Valid Marriage

Legal Requirements for Marriage FAQ’s

There are certain legal requirements for a marriage. You may think it is confusing. But once you know the legal requirements for a marriage in your state, it is actually very simple and you can concentrate all your energy on planning your marriage. While the exact legal requirements vary by state, a legal marriage performed in state is recognized in all other states. Here are the answers to some common questions on the legal requirements for marriage.

Do I need any legal documents for marriage?

You must apply for a marriage license. The application must be made to the county clerk. In most jurisdiction, you will have to pay a small fee along with your application. If you and your spouse meet the requirements for a marriage license, you will be given one. Once you get the marriage license, you can proceed the ceremony and celebrations. The person who officiates your wedding must file your marriage certificate with the concerned agency in your county. Failure to do so will not make your marriage invalid but you will find it difficult to document your marriage.

Do I have to take a blood test?

You do not have to take a blood test in most states. In some states however, you may be required to take a blood test for venereal disease. In some states, you must undergo tests for tuberculosis, sickle-cell anemia and rubella. There is no mandatory AIDS or HIV testing in any states but most states will offer the applicants such tests or provide information about where such tests can be done.

Are they any restrictions on whom I can marry?

Yes. In most states, both spouses must be at least 18 years of age. If either spouse is less than 18 years old, then that spouse must obtain consent of his or her parents or a judge. A judge will consent to a marriage where one or both spouses are underaged if the woman is pregnant but require proof that the couple are capable of supporting themselves financially.

If you are already married, you cannot marry again unless you get a divorce from your current spouse, even if they two of you have been living separately for a very long time. If you have been previously married, you must provide proof of the termination or dissolution of your prior marriage(s). If you are in a legal marriage, you can legally change your status from married to single or unmarried by a divorce decree or dissolution of your marriage.

You and your intending spouse must have the mental capacity to enter into a marriage – understand the consequences of their decision to get married. Anyone who for reasons of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs or due to mental illness cannot understand the consequences of marriage is said to lack mental capacity to enter into a marriage.

Marriages between blood relatives are prohibited. Generally the spouses cannot be closer than third cousins. In most states, first cousins can get married if they are very old and can longer conceive.

A few states have started allowing same sex marriages. The Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman. However there are moves to change the provisions of this Act.

Are same sex marriages legal?

There is no federal law that recognizes same sex marriages but some states recognize same sex marriages. A few other recognize civil unions or similar arrangements between same sex couples. As of now, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Iowa recognize same sex marriages and also perform them. Washington DC is likes to follow suit. New York recognizes same sex marriages legally performed in states that allow same sex marriage. New York however does not perform same sex marriages. In California, same sex marriages were performed for sometime between June 16 and November 4 in 2008. The ban on same sex marriages were reinstated in California. As such same sex marriages performed in California during this short period or performed in other states during the same period or before are still recognized in California. Please check with your state law.

Is it possible to have a same sex marriage in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage?

While there is nothing to prevent you from doing so, the only problem will be that your marriage will not be legally recognized. You and your same sex partner can enter into an agreement about your relationship. This agreement can be similar to a prenuptial agreement. As long as the agreement isn’t illegal and does not make an overt indication of your sexual preferences, the agreement will be valid but it will not make you and your same sex partner a legally married couple. So you will not be eligible for the tax benefits and other benefits usually applicable to legally married couples. You will not have to go through a divorce if you want to terminate the relationship. You can however perform a marriage ceremony as a symbolic gesture.

Is a marriage certificate and a marriage license the same document?

No. A marriage licenses is a document obtained prior to your marriage while the certificate is issued after the marriage and is the legal document that proves your marriage.

Here’s how the procedure works. First you get your marriage license, then you hold the ceremonies and the person who officiates your wedding files the marriage certificate with the concerned county agency. You will then receive a certified copy of your marriage certificate within a few days. In many states, the person officiating the marriage must sign the marriage certificate along with two witnesses.

How can I get a marriage license?

The exact procedure varies by state. Generally the application must be made to the county clerk’s office. It could be any county in the state you want to get married. Some states however require that the application be made only in the county where you want to get married. In most states, you will have to pay a small application fee and you will receive your license within a few days.

The validity of the marriage licenses is 30 days from the date of issue but it can be more or less in some states. In most states, there is a waiting period – you must wait for a few days after you receive your license to get married. This waiting period provision allows the parties to rethink their decision. The parties can also request a waiver of this waiting period for good cause such as being deployed overseas. The following states have a waiting period:







South Carolina




New York
























New Hampshire


New Jersey


















Can I get a copy of my marriage certificate if I lose the original?

The exact process for getting a copy of the marriage certificate varies by state. Generally you can get copies of your marriage certificate as well as those of someone else. You may have to pay a small fee, generally $5 or $10. The National Center for Health Statistics provides details of where to apply for a copy of the marriage certificate in different states.

Who can officiate a marriage?

The person officiating the marriage must be qualified by the county. Judges and Justices of Peace can perform non-religious civil unions. In some states non-religious civil unions can be performed by a court clerk. The judge or a court clerk can confer the authority to perform a marriage on some people. The members of the clergy conduct the religious marriages – generally a minister, priest or a rabbi. The tribal chiefs of native American tribes generally perform weddings in the tribe or designate others to perform weddings.

Are there any legal requirements for a marriage ceremony?

The marriage must be officiated by someone qualified by the county and there must be witnesses to the ceremony. Religious marriages must be performed by a member of the clergy. Ship captains and airline pilots cannot officiate a marriage. Generally at least 2 witnesses must sign the marriage certificate.

Are there any legal requirements that must be met after the wedding ceremony?

Generally, there is no legal requirements post the wedding ceremony but in a few states, you must consummate the marriage. In majority of the states you will be considered legally married once the wedding ceremony is over even if the person officiating the marriage fails to file the marriage certificate.

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