Legal Requirements of a Valid Marriage

By Lia Kopin-Green
May 31, 2022

There is a lot more to marriage than a romantic relationship - it is also a legally binding contract between two parties. In other words, just as with any other contract, marriage must satisfy certain conditions to be valid. These necessities can vary depending on state laws, but the marriage must typically meet the following requirements:

1. Both parties must be unmarried

Even if you have already been married before, the process is slightly different the second time around. Remarriage is a little more complicated and requires additional documentation. The reason for this is that before you can freely remarry, both you and your spouse must be legally unmarried. In order to prove that the divorce from your previous marriage is finalized, you will need to provide the court with all necessary divorce documentation. If you are unable to locate your certificate of dissolution or divorce degree, your divorce attorney can request a copy for you from the court. You will be required to disclose the grounds for the divorce (whether it was no-fault or at-fault) the exact date of your divorce, and the state where you filed for the divorce. 

If you are widowed or widower, the process of verifying that you are no longer married is naturally a bit different. The death certificate of your former partner will serve as proof that they are no longer alive and that you are no longer married.

2. If applicable, the waiting period after a divorce has ended

In some states, there is a necessary waiting period that must take place before you can get married again after a divorce. In the past, divorced people were forced to wait up to a year before they could remarry. These days, the laws regarding this waiting period are more lax. There are nine US states plus DC that have laws indicating how much time has to pass after a divorce before someone can marry. Nebraska and Wisconsin, for example, require you to wait six months after your divorce to marry someone new, unless your former spouse dies within that time. Similarly, Alabama has a 60 day waiting period. Marriages that occur during those time periods are considered void and will only become valid once the waiting period ends.

3. Meeting the age of consent

Throughout the United States, each state determines the minimum age to get married. In all 50 states except for Nebraska, one can marry without parental consent at the age of 18. Nebraska’s age of consent for marriage is 19.

Underage marriages may occur in certain circumstances with permission from a court clerk, judge and/or consent of the parents or legal guardians of the minor. The minimum age at which minors may marry varies from state to state. Here are some of the age of consent requirements in several states:

Alabama - with parental consent, minors can marry at sixteen years old.

California - a minor couple can get married at any age with parental consent, but the parents and minors must meet with court officials who must rule out abuse or coercion.

Delaware - underage marriage is completely banned.

New York - a minor can marry at seventeen with parental and judicial consent.

Utah - With parental consent, a minor can get married at sixteen. A person can marry at fifteen if he or she has  judicial approval in addition to parental consent.

4. The marriage license is valid

A marriage license is required in all 50 states, but each state has its own licensing conditions. It is typically required to present a valid form of ID when applying for a marriage license. Depending on your state’s laws, both you and your partner will likely need to show a state-issued identification card or driver’s license, your social security card and number, a passport, or certified copy of a birth certificate. A witness may also need to be present while applying for a marriage license for it to be valid in some states.

Montana requires women to undergo blood tests for marriage licenses that determine immunity for certain diseases. In order to skip the blood test, both spouses must sign an informed-consent form.

5. Mental capacity

When it comes to marriage, capacity refers to the mental ability of one or both of the parties to agree to become spouses. In other words, both you and your spouse must be “sound of mind” in agreeing to get married. However, the court ruled that not all people suffering from mental illness and insanity are incapable of marrying. Mental capacity in the context of marriage is defined as the capability of both spouses to have an understanding of what it means to be married and the many legal and financial implications that come along with it. When a party is mentally incapacitated to the extent that they can not comprehend the nature and expectations of marriage, the marriage will be invalid.

6. The officiant must be qualified

For the marriage to become legally valid, it cannot be officiated by just anyone. The officiant of your marriage must be qualified to perform marriages in your county. Religious weddings can be performed by a member of the clergy such as a rabbi, priest, minister or other certified religious entities. A family member or friend can receive temporary permission from the court to officiate a secular wedding. It can take time to get ordained and prepare official documents, so officiants are advised to start preparing at least six months to a year before the wedding. At the time of the marriage, officiants must ensure that the parties have a valid marriage license and that the parties presenting themselves are the parties named on the marriage license.

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