In all 50 states, only two people may enter a marriage. However, same-sex marriage is now legal in the U.S. While states can differ on the provisions for marriage, in general, the following are the basic requirements for marriage:

  1. Legal age to marry or have parental consent if under age.
  2. Be currently unmarried. If previously married, you must have had a legally recognized divorce and you may need to provide a copy of the divorce decree to receive a marriage license depending on the state in which you remarry.
  3. Obtain a marriage license.
  4. Have sufficient mental capacity to understand the significance of marrying. 
  5. You are not closely related to your spouse.

What is the Legal Age to Marry?

In the majority of states, the legal age is 18. While the rules vary state to state, children of age 15-16 can typically get married if they have consent of their parents.

Nebraska is the only state to set the legal age at 19 and Mississippi law requires parties to be 21 to marry without any parental involvement. If under 21 but above 18, you need parental consent or the state provides written notice to your parents of the marriage.

Are there any Waiting Periods to Getting Married?

Some states require a waiting period between the time of applying for a marriage license and actually receiving one. Most states have no requirement of waiting while some require a waiting period for non-residents only. Wisconsin has the longest waiting period in the country, requiring six (6) days before a license is granted.

How Do I Get a Marriage License?

While you do not need to be a resident of the state or county in which you marry, you usually need a license from that locality. Applications for the license are generally made in-person at the office of vital statistics or court house in most states.

You will have to provide proof of your identity and in some cases proof of any divorces if applicable. There is also a fee in most states for obtaining the license. The license is not the marriage itself, rather a license to have the solemnization ceremony either in the form of a civil or religious ceremony within a specified period of time.

Do I Need a Blood Test or Proof of Immunization to Get Married?

The vast majority of states do not require the parties to have a blood test or submit any immunization records.

What is the Solemnization Ceremony?

After receiving your license to marry, you need to find an official who has the legal authority in your state to marry you. Generally, judges, magistrates, and registered religious leaders have such authority.

In most states, online ordainment programs are recognized as well. In addition to the officiant, many states require one or two witnesses to be present and sign a document memorializing the marriage in order for it to be official.

How Do I Get a Marriage Certificate?

After the ceremony, you may be required to submit the license with the appropriate signatures of the officiant and witnesses to your local government office in order to receive the official certificate of marriage.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is recognized in only a few states. However, in those states, a common law marriage has the same legal effect as those who obtained a license and had a solemnization ceremony.

In order for the common law marriage to be recognized, the law may require certain elements to be met such as the couple holding themselves out as married and cohabiting for a certain number of years. There are also certain steps required to end a common law marriage, which are different from steps taken to end a marriage.

When Do I Need a Lawyer?

Typically, a marriage license will not require help of a lawyer. It’s important to have all of the necessary documents, including current identification for the applicants, and be prepared to pay the application fee. You could be denied a marriage license if you are unable to provide either, and if you cannot establish proof that your previous marriage was lawfully terminated.

If you have exhausted all other remedies (and submitted all of the correct forms and fees), then a family lawyer may be necessary if you discover any problems in obtaining a license or certificate of marriage. However, if you have not exhausted all other remedies before contacting a lawyer, then it is unlikely they will be able to help you until you take those other steps.