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What You Need To Know and Do To Get Married

Can anyone get married to anyone?

You must meet certain requirements in order to marry. These vary slightly from state to state, but include:

  • being at least the age of consent (usually 18, though sometimes you may marry younger with your parents' consent)
  • not being too-closely related to your intended spouse
  • having the mental capacity -- that is, you must understand what you are doing and what consequences your actions may have
  • being sober at the time of the marriage
  • not being married to anyone else
  • getting a blood test, and
  • obtaining a marriage license.

What's the difference between a "marriage license" and a "marriage certificate"?

A marriage license is the piece of paper that authorizes you to get married and a marriage certificate is the document that proves you are married.

Typically, couples obtain a marriage license, have the wedding ceremony, and then have the person who performed the ceremony file a marriage certificate in the appropriate county office within a few days. (This may be the office of the county clerk, recorder or registrar, depending on where you live.) The married couple will be sent a certified copy of the marriage certificate within a few weeks after the marriage ceremony.

Most states require both spouses, the person who officiated and one or two witnesses to sign the marriage certificate; often this is done just after the ceremony.

Where can couples get a marriage license?

Couples may apply for a marriage license at any county clerk's office in the state where you want to be married. (In some circumstances, you must apply in the county or town where you intend to be married -- this depends on state law.) You'll probably have to pay a small fee for your license, and you may also have to wait a few days before it is issued.

In some states, even after you get your license you'll have to wait a short period of time, one to three days, before you tie the knot. In some situations, the waiting period is waivable. If you wait too long, your license will expire. Licenses are good for 30 days to one year, depending on the state. If your license expires before you get married, you can apply for a new one.

Who can perform a marriage ceremony?

Non-religious ceremonies, called civil ceremonies, must be performed by a judge, justice of the peace or court clerk who has legal authority to perform marriages, or by a person given temporary authority by a judge or court clerk to conduct a marriage ceremony. Religious ceremonies must be conducted by a clergy member (priest, minister or rabbi). Native American weddings may be performed by a tribal chief or by another official, as designated by the tribe.

Are there requirements about what the ceremony must include?

Usually, no special words are required as long as the spouses acknowledge their intention to marry each other. Keeping that in mind, you can design whatever type of ceremony you desire.

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