Although most marriages begin as a romantic arrangement, a marriage, in all actuality, is a legally binding contract between two individuals. This means that like all other contracts, certain requirements must be met to render a marriage valid.
While your state’s rules on marriage requirements, such as blood tests, waiting periods before marriage, and the like; same-sex marriages; common law marriages, etc. may vary, the following requirements must generally be met in order for a marriage to be valid:
- Unmarried: Each person must be unmarried
- Age of consent: Each person must be at least 18 years old. If either party is under 18 years of age, they can only get married if they have the written consent of their parent or legal guardians, and when authorized by the court.
- Opposite sex: In some states, a marriage is only allowed between a man and a woman. However, other states allow same-sex marriages and people of the same sex may lawfully marry.
- Mental capacity: Each person must be sane and mentally capable of entering into a legally binding agreement.
- Marriage license: The couple must obtain a marriage license from a judge or clerk of a district court authorizing them to get married. Once issued, the license is usually valid for a certain number of days only and it must be returned to the county clerk within a certain number of days after the wedding ceremony in order to be recorded.
- A blood test: Some states require a blood test before a couple can receive a marriage license.
- Pay a fee: Most states require a fee, which can cost upwards of $200.
- A waiting period: Some states require a waiting a period of one to six days after receiving a marriage license before a couple can actually marry.
- A ceremony: In many states, some sort of ceremony must take place in order for a marriage to be valid. The ceremony can be religious or civil and does not need to conform to any particular format.
- An officiant: All states require an officiant to oversee the wedding. Usually, this is a clergyman or civil officer who can administer an oath.
- A witness: In addition to the officiant, most state require one or two people, who are over the age of 18, to witness the marriage and sign the marriage certificate.
- Exchange of vows: There must be an exchange of promises. However, this does not have to follow any specific format and can be whatever the couple decides on.
Common law marriages
These days, it is increasingly more common for couples to live in long-term, loving relationships, without ever choosing to marry. Fortunately, for those who chose this lifestyle, many states offer an alternative to marriage with all the same rights and benefits.
In some states, you can enjoy all of the benefits of being married without having to go through any of the traditional formalities. Your relationship, however, must generally meet the following requirements:
- You must present yourselves publicly as a married couple.
- You must be legally eligible to be married, which means you must be old enough to marry legally, and not already married
- You must mutually agree to be married
- You must live together as man and wife
If you can sufficiently document that your relationship meets all of these requirements, you may be considered legally married in the eyes of the law. This is called a common law marriage and will confer upon you all of the legal rights, privileges, and restrictions as a conventional marriage.
For more specific information regarding the legal requirements for marriage in your state, contact an experienced family law attorney who has knowledge of your state’s marriage laws.