Family, Children & Education
Marriage in the United States
Marriage laws in the US are established by the individual states, not the federal government. In most states, you need to be 18 to marry, although parental consent can often be given if you are at least 16 years of age.
In each state, you will need to obtain a marriage license from a local civil authority, usually the clerk of the circuit court of a county or city in that state. As each city or county has its own set of regulations, it is important to visit the website of the relevant county or city government before going there in person to make sure you know the correct procedure and which documents you will need to bring with you. Both parties must normally be present when you apply for your marriage license, and you and your fiancé(e) will need to swear under oath that all the information you provided in the application is true.
When you apply, be sure to bring your passport with you, and sometimes you will need to provide your birth certificate as well. In this case, make sure to bring a notarized English translation with you. If you have been previously married, you should bring the divorce decree or death certificate, along with a notarized English translation. The fee for marriage licenses varies from county to county, ranging from about $30 to up to $100. Marriage license fees may be higher for people who do not live in that state.
When and Where You Can Get Married
Some cities and counties have a waiting period between the day you apply for your marriage license and the day you can pick it up. Others require you to wait a certain number of hours or days between when the marriage license is issued and when you actually get married. Even if there is no waiting period, please note that most offices are only open Monday-Friday. To be on the safe side, you should plan on applying for your marriage license at least a week before your wedding date.
You usually have a set number of days to get married after the marriage license is issued; otherwise it loses its validity. This can range from one month to one year, so make sure you don’t get your license too far in advance of your wedding date.
Some counties or states may have residency restrictions governing who is allowed to marry within their borders. If you are not a resident of that state, you are often only allowed to get married in the county or city which issued your marriage license.
As of January 2014, same-sex marriage was legal in 18 US states, as well as the District of Columbia. In addition, civil unions are recognized in Colorado and several counties in Arizona. These laws continue to be contested in several states, however, so please visit the relevant state government website to get the most up-to-date information.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) makes it legal for states where same-sex marriage is not allowed to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. If you are not a resident of the county or city you wish to marry in, you must sometimes still prove that your marriage will be legal in your home county or city in order to be allowed to marry there.
Section 3 of DOMA was struck down by the US Supreme Court in June 2013, making it possible for the US government to recognize same-sex marriages. This is particularly relevant when it comes to being able to sponsor your spouse for a US visa. Same-sex spouses now have the same rights as opposite-sex spouses in terms of immigration benefits.
The Wedding Ceremony
After you have been issued your marriage license, you can be married by anyone who has been authorized by that state to perform weddings, be it a religious minister, justice of the peace, etc. Be sure to check the regulations on who can officiate your wedding in the city or county where you are getting married. Restrictions may also apply if you are bringing in your officiant from out of state.
In the US, you do not need to have a separate civil and religious wedding ceremony. You just need one ceremony, and as long as it is officiated by someone authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in that county or city, where it takes place is completely up to you – in a place of religious worship, a court house, at your home, at the beach, etc. Whoever officiates your wedding will fill out the appropriate section of the marriage license after the ceremony and return that to the circuit court, where your marriage will be recorded.
In addition, please also keep in mind that marriages which take place outside of the US are legally binding if they are officially recognized by the government of the country in which they are performed. So if you are living in the US, but want to get married in your home country or have a destination wedding at a tropical location, both of these options may also be possible.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.