Family & Relationships

Getting Married? Know the Legal Requirements — and Documents — You’ll Need

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You’ve set a date — you’re getting married! But beyond the wedding ceremony, do you know what you need to make it happen? Here’s the lowdown on what is legally required to get married.

Requirements

Before we talk about legal documents, let’s first address the requirements you and your future spouse need to meet in order to be allowed to marry by the state. These can vary by state, but generally you both need to be:

  • At least the age of consent in your state (which is 18 years old in most states, although in some you can marry when you’re younger if you have parental consent).
  • Not too closely related. What’s too close? It depends on the state — some, for example, will allow first cousins to marry.
  • Of reasonable mental capacity, meaning you both understand what you’re doing and the consequences of your actions.
  • Unmarried to anyone else.

Marriage license

This is the big one — the document that authorizes you to get married. Requirements on how and where and when to apply for your license can vary quite a bit, so check with your county clerk’s office or local marriage license bureau, whoever is in charge of giving out licenses in your city. Here are the things you’ll want to find out from whoever is in charge of marriage licenses in your area:

What documents do I need to apply for the license? In general, you’ll both want to bring the following to apply:

  • Driver’s licenses or passports (government-issued photo ID)
  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security number
  • Divorce decree if you were previously married and are divorced
  • Death decree if you were previously married and are widowed
  • Parental consent if you are underage

How much does it cost? There is generally a fee (which varies greatly by state). You’ll want to find out if the office only accepts cash or if you can pay with a check.

When should I apply for the license? In most areas, licenses are only valid for a certain amount of time (ranging from days to months) so you’ll want to make sure you don’t get your license too early before your wedding date. Some offices will impose a waiting period (generally a few days), so you don’t want to wait until the last minute to get your license either.

Once you get the license, this is what you’ll need to have your officiant (who must be someone recognized by the state to perform the wedding) and witnesses sign on your wedding day. Then the officiant generally handles sending the license back in to the clerk’s office. In most places, the office will then mail you a marriage certificate — or you may have to purchase certified copies, which will be important and necessary if you want to change your name.

Keep in mind that these are the legal requirements for getting married in the eyes of the government. If you’re getting married in a religious ceremony, you may have additional requirements you need to meet. But this is what it takes to be recognized in the eyes of the law.

After you’re married, you’ll undoubtedly have legal and financial matters to deal with as a couple —some things you’ll plan for, some issues will be unexpected. Learn more about how to be prepared and protected throughout life.

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