Marriage Law Overview

If you have decided to get married, congratulations! Aside from the excitement of your forthcoming wedding and the anticipation of a joyful future together there are a number of practical things you need to consider and discuss with your fiancé and your family before you get married. For example, have you decided what your names will be after you marry? If one or both of you are changing your name, there might be extra paperwork involved.

License and Waiting Period

Because the laws relating to marriage in the United States have wide variations depending on the state, it is very important that you check the state and county requirements in which you plan to get married. In all cases it's best to apply for a marriage license at least three or four weeks before your wedding day.

When you apply for a marriage license, you will need to prove your identity and, if applicable, that you are of the correct age. If you have been married before, you may be required to show proof that you are legally divorced and when you divorced. This is because some states prescribe a minimum time limit between the date of divorce and the next marriage ceremony.

There is a ‘waiting period' between applying for the marriage license and the ceremony, although this is usually no longer than a matter of days. Sometimes, in urgent situations (ill-health, imminent birth), you can obtain a waiver to the waiting period. It's also important to check how long your license is valid for once granted, just in case you need to amend your dates unexpectedly.

Limitations on Marriage

Ensure that your situation complies with the requirements of the state in which you intend to marry. Some states allow cousins to marry, whereas others provide limitations (for example, Indiana only permits cousins to marry if both of them are over the age of 65 years.) Some states provide certain circumstances in which partners are allowed to marry by proxy, but there are usually requirements that need to be met in order to allow ‘marriage at a distance' such as being overseas and in the armed forces, incarcerated or as a result of ill health.

What About Common Law Marriage?

In some eleven states, common law marriage is legally recognized. What this means is that a union of marriage is recognized even though the couple has not had a marriage ceremony. Although there are certain states that have never allowed it, and just over half of the other states have abolished it, a valid common law marriage is still supposed to be recognized in those states (although there have been several recent legal challenges in relation to this). There are no states in the US that recognize same sex common law marriages.

Minimum Ages

Although there are some exceptions most states set minimum ages for marriage. If a minor wants to marry, there are usually certain documents to produce and the formal consent of a parent or guardian must be obtained, or a court order.

Prenuptial Agreements

During the run up to your wedding, it can seem both negative and unromantic to talk about what might happen if the marriage doesn't work out. However, given that a significant number of marriages end in divorce a prenuptial agreement can avoid a lot of bitterness, heartache and legal wrangling.

Do you have questions or concerns about your marriage? Contact an attorney for advice.

Find a Lawyer

Start here to find family and divorce lawyers near you.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Family attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you