Legal Requirements to Marry That Every Bride and Groom Must Know

When a couple becomes engaged, their thoughts naturally turn to the wedding. After all, it is fun and exciting to think about flowers, bridal gowns, fabulous jewelry, and the like. But before you dive into designing wedding cakes and bridal jewelry, take a minute to deal with the practical stuff first. This is an overview of the legal requirements to marry that every bride and groom needs to read.

Perhaps it should go without saying, but in order to be free and clear to marry, both parties must first be completely out of any previous marriages. It sounds obvious, but you hear all the time about couples becoming engaged before the divorce is final, which frankly is unwise for numerous reasons. In many states you will need to bring the divorce decree with you to the county clerk along with your proof of identification when you go to obtain a marriage license.

In order to marry without parental consent, both people must be at least 18 years old in most states. The minimum age limit is set at 19 in Nebraska and 21 in Mississippi. In every state, there are provisions for people to marry with parental consent; the age limit for that is 16 or 17 in most states. A few states do make exceptions for females that are younger if pregnant. Judicial consent is required on top of parental consent in those cases.

What about the controversial topic of first cousins marrying? It is permitted in 21 states, allowed under certain circumstances in 6, and forbidden outright in the other states. The six states that do allow first cousin marriage in special cases generally either require that the bride and groom be older than their childbearing years (the minimum age ranges from 50 to 65) or in Maine, that they have genetic counseling before they are free to marry. There may be other restrictions as well; Vermont, for instance, allows first cousin marriage, but will not perform one there to help an out of state couple escape the marital laws of their home state.

Another controversial topic regarding who may marry involves same sex couples. This is an ever-changing, ever-evolving subject. For instance, in California, the state legislature passed a law permitting marriage licenses to be issued to same sex couples, only to have the law struck down by a voters’ proposition. As of this writing, same sex marriages are recognized in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa. Some form of civil union or domestic partnership is available in New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Hawaii, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. Any same sex couple considering their options for a legal union should consult with their particular home state.

The marriage license will need to be obtained in person in the state in which you plan to marry, usually with both people present. Also keep in mind that marriage licenses do generally expire (around 60 days is common, but it can be as little as 30 days or as long as a year), and some states have a brief waiting period before the marriage can be conducted. Each state has its own particular rules, so be sure to check the laws for your state. You may need a blood test (very rare), pre-marital counseling, and there are variations in who is permitted to officiate over a marriage. Remember to bring your i.d. and cash to pay for the license (many clerks do not accept checks or credit cards). Once you have your ducks in a row legally, you will be able to get your marriage license and begin the fun of planning your wedding ceremony!