Marriage Laws in America: A Comprehensive Guide

Marriage laws in the United States vary by state, and understanding the legal requirements and processes is essential if you plan to get married. Here’s a comprehensive guide to marriage laws in America:

1. Eligibility for Marriage

1.1 Age Requirements

In most states, the minimum age to get married without parental consent is 18. However, some states allow younger individuals to marry with parental consent, and a few states set a higher minimum age.

1.2 Waiting Period

Many states have a waiting period between obtaining a marriage license and the actual ceremony. This waiting period can vary from a few hours to several days.

1.3 Blood Tests

Historically, some states required blood tests for certain diseases (e.g., syphilis) before issuing a marriage license. However, these requirements have largely been abolished in recent years.

1.4 Prior Marriages

If either party has been previously married, they may need to provide divorce or annulment decrees as proof of the dissolution of their previous marriage.

2. Obtaining a Marriage License

2.1 Visit the County Clerk’s Office

To obtain a marriage license, you typically need to visit the county clerk’s office in the county where you plan to get married. Some states allow online applications.

2.2 Identification

Both parties will need to provide valid identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Some states may also require a birth certificate.

2.3 Application Fee

There is usually a fee associated with applying for a marriage license. The amount varies by state and county.

2.4 Waiting Period

As mentioned earlier, some states impose a waiting period between the issuance of the license and the wedding ceremony.

2.5 Blood Test or Medical Examination

Check your state’s requirements; most no longer require blood tests or medical exams.

2.6 Residency Requirements

Most states do not have residency requirements, meaning you can get married in a state even if you don’t reside there.

3. Ceremony and Officiants

3.1 Officiant Qualifications

The person officiating your wedding (e.g., clergy member, judge, or civil officiant) must meet the legal qualifications set by your state. Some states allow friends or family members to become ordained online to perform ceremonies.

3.2 Witnesses

Most states require the presence of one or more witnesses during the marriage ceremony. They will sign the marriage license as witnesses to the union.

4. Marriage License Validity

4.1 Expiration

A marriage license typically expires after a specific period (e.g., 30 to 90 days) if the wedding ceremony doesn’t take place within that time frame.

4.2 Out-of-State Marriages

Marriage licenses obtained in one state are usually valid throughout the United States. However, it’s essential to comply with the specific requirements of the state where you obtain the license.

5. Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide in the United States following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. All states must allow and recognize same-sex marriages.

6. Common Law Marriage

Not all states recognize common law marriages, but those that do require couples to meet specific criteria, such as living together for an extended period and presenting themselves as a married couple.

7. Proxy Marriages

Some states allow proxy marriages, where one party is not physically present at the ceremony. However, the rules and availability of proxy marriages vary by state.

8. Marriage Certificates and Name Changes

After the wedding ceremony, the officiant and witnesses sign the marriage license. This document is then filed with the county clerk’s office, and a marriage certificate is issued as proof of the marriage.

If you or your spouse wish to change your last name after marriage, you can usually do so by using the marriage certificate as documentation.

9. Divorce and Annulment

If a marriage ends in divorce or annulment, the legal process must be followed to dissolve the marriage officially. Each state has its divorce and annulment laws and procedures.


Marriage laws in America can be complex due to variations between states, but understanding the requirements and following the legal process is crucial for a legally recognized and valid marriage. Always check with your local county clerk’s office or an attorney to ensure you comply with the specific laws in your state.





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