Getting married is an exciting life event, but when you’re head over heels with the flowers and the cake and invitations, you may not be thinking about the legal requirements for the marriage that follows the wedding. Each state has specific requirements when it comes to determining legal marriage, one of which is obtaining a marriage license. 

Unfortunately, even if you’ve obtained a license from your local government office, marriage licenses can be declared invalid for a number of reasons. The most common example of an invalid marriage license results from fraud.

For example, if the parties enter into a fake or sham marriage (like a fraudulent arrangement for obtaining immigration status), this “marriage” is likely to be invalid. Another example of an invalid marriage might be a fraudulent second marriage, where one of the parties claims to have been divorced when they are, in reality, still married.

How are a Marriage License and a Marriage Certificate Different?

A marriage license and a marriage certificate are actually two different documents. The license is what you apply for before you get married. Usually this document is issued by the clerk of court and officially allows you and your partner to get married based on the laws in your county or state. In most states, marriage licenses are only good for a certain period of time, and they are subject to certain requirements according to state law.

A marriage certificate is a certified record that you can use throughout your lifetime as proof of marriage. If you are planning on changing your name on your official documents (like your drivers license or social security card), you will need to present a marriage certificate to the entity making the change.

When can a Marriage License be Declared Invalid?

As with many subjects, state laws vary depending on where you live. Each state has specific requirements for marriage and marriage licenses, and most of the time they are simple and easy to fulfill. If you truthfully provide all the necessary information required when applying for your marriage license, then you have nothing to worry about.

In many cases, an invalid license is the result of fraud (although it doesn’t necessarily have to be). Generally, a marriage license can be invalidated on certain grounds, such as:

  • Age: Most states require the parties to be at least 18 in order to obtain a marriage license. If one (or both) of the parties are underage, the state will require a parent’s consent to the marriage. Often, states also have a baseline age for marriage, even with parental consent (in many areas no younger than 16);
  • Improper Identification: In many states, you will need to provide proof of identification to get your marriage license, such as a birth certificate or a government issued photo ID (like a drivers license);
  • Misrepresentation: A marriage license can be considered invalid if any of the parties provides fraudulent information (like the example of sham marriages for the sake of immigration status, or a bigamous marriage);
  • Medical Examination: Most states have done away with mandatory premarital physical exams. However, some states may require medical verification documents, including blood tests for venereal diseases, rubella, or tuberculosis. Some states may also require proof of certain vaccinations;
  • Certificates: If one of the parties was previously married, they will need to show proof that they are no longer married and eligible to re-marry. This can take the form of a divorce decree, annulment, or a death certificate;
  • Waiting Periods: Depending on where you live (and where you’re getting married), your state may require a waiting period from the time the marriage license is issued until the time the wedding can actually occur; or
  • Additional Documentation: In some cases, your state may require additional documentation in order to obtain your marriage license. This is especially true in cases where one of the parties is not a U.S. citizen.

If you think you may be a party to an invalid marriage, you should check your state’s statute about marriage requirements. If any of the state requirements for a marriage license are not fulfilled, the license will not be considered valid. In order to avoid this kind of thing impacting your wedding plans, it is best to plan ahead and make sure that you leave plenty of time to get your marriage license.

What if We were Married, but Later Discovered that our License was not Valid?

The answer to this question depends on the circumstances that led to the invalid license. In most cases, if the parties made a good faith, reasonable effort to get a valid license, they can usually re-apply for a new license. In some cases, they may be able to prove the validity of the marriage through an affidavit of marriage.

However, if the license was invalid due to fraud, misrepresentation, or some other serious issue, it is possible that a new license will not be issued. Discovery that the license was not valid could also have other consequences, though. For example, there may be civil consequences if one party sues the other for fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or other possible claims.

An invalid marriage license can also have consequences regarding immigration status if one of the parties is not a U.S. citizen. An invalid license could potentially be the basis for a removal or deportation hearing, especially if the party used the marriage as the main reason for entering the country via fiancé visa or family petition.

If you discover that your marriage license was invalid, and you are issued a new marriage license, you have the option of having a civil ceremony at the courthouse to make the marriage legal. Many municipalities have a magistrate available to perform marriage ceremonies on a daily basis, or may have a particular room set aside at the courthouse just for civil marriage ceremonies.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for an Invalid Marriage License?

Marriage licenses are a central requirement for creating a legally valid marriage. If you suspect that you may have an issue with a marriage license, it is in your best interests to consult an experienced family law attorney for advice. 

The right attorney will be able to explain your state’s requirements for a legally valid marriage license, and how to proceed if you think you may have difficulty providing the necessary documentation. Many other areas of your life can be affected by your marital status (like filing income taxes or medical decisions), so you want to be sure that your marriage will be recognized by the government. 

If you suspect that your partner may have committed fraud when you obtained your marriage license, your attorney can also advise you on the best way to proceed and how to protect your rights.