It seems like it should be a simple question: How old do you have to be to marry in the United States? The truth is that the answer is more complicated than you might think. That’s because the age of consent depends on the laws of each state.
Federal law sets no minimum age requirement for marriage. Rather, this issue is left to states to decide. As a result, there is no easy way to answer the question of a minimum age for marriage. You just have to find out the requirements where you live. The easiest way to do this is usually to contact the local registrar or county clerk and ask. Sometimes, you can also find out by contacting your state department of health or by looking on the websites for these governmental authorities.
With that said, there are some general requirements that tend to pop up relating to the minimum age to marry in U.S. states. You can read general descriptions below, but always check in your state to make sure you know the current requirements.
The Legal Age to Marry: 18 in 48 States
All states set a minimum age over which you can choose to get married without having permission from anyone else. As of the time of writing this article, that age is 18 in 48 states.
The two outlying states are Mississippi, which sets that threshold at 21, and Nebraska, where you must be at least 19 years old to make this decision on your own.
The Next Question: Are You Too Young?
Half of the states set a minimum age for marriage, below which you generally cannot marry. Where it exists, the minimum age varies from between 13 and 17 years old:
- 13: New Hampshire (girls)
- 14: Alaska, New Hampshire (boys), New York, North Carolina
- 15: Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Utah
- 16: Alabama, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin
- 17: Nebraska, Oregon
The laws of some states include some very narrow exceptions to these minimum age requirements.
Potential Additional Requirements
Many states place additional requirements on people who are not considered to be old enough to decide to marry on their own. These requirements fall into categories like these:
- parental consent, which may be required in person, in writing, or in a notarized writing;
- proof of age, usually in the form of a birth certificate;
- payment of additional money for a bond or a court petition;
- attendance at counseling and/or the approval of a counselor;
- a sworn statement that a female is pregnant and/or verification of pregnancy by a physician;
- a waiting period before a marriage license will be issued; and
- approval of a court.
The specific requirements vary from state to state and may be changed by state lawmakers, so it is critical that you confirm the laws of your state before you apply for a license. The best sources for this information are official government entities (such as the county registrar or clerk) and attorneys licensed in your state.