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Wedding Registration in United States

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  • Marriage license
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  • Legal Requirements
    Marriage laws in the US are established by the individual states, not the federal government. In most states, you need to be 18 to marry, although parental consent can often be given if you are at least 16 years of age.

    Marriage Licenses
    In each state, you will need to obtain a marriage license from a local civil authority, usually the clerk of the circuit court of a county or city in that state. As each city or county has its own set of regulations, it is important to visit the website of the relevant county or city government before going there in person to make sure you know the correct procedure and which documents you will need to bring with you. Both parties must normally be present when you apply for your marriage license, and you and your fiancé(e) will need to swear under oath that all the information you provided in the application is true.

    When you apply, be sure to bring your passport with you, and sometimes you will need to provide your birth certificate as well. In this case, make sure to bring a notarized English translation with you. If you have been previously married, you should bring the divorce decree or death certificate, along with a notarized English translation. The fee for marriage licenses varies from county to county, ranging from about $30 to up to $100. Marriage license fees may be higher for people who do not live in that state.

    When and Where You Can Get Married
    Some cities and counties have a waiting period between the day you apply for your marriage license and the day you can pick it up. Others require you to wait a certain number of hours or days between when the marriage license is issued and when you actually get married. Even if there is no waiting period, please note that most offices are only open Monday-Friday. To be on the safe side, you should plan on applying for your marriage license at least a week before your wedding date.

    You usually have a set number of days to get married after the marriage license is issued; otherwise it loses its validity. This can range from one month to one year, so make sure you don’t get your license too far in advance of your wedding date.

    Some counties or states may have residency restrictions governing who is allowed to marry within their borders. If you are not a resident of that state, you are often only allowed to get married in the county or city which issued your marriage license.

    Same-Sex Marriage
    As of January 2014, same-sex marriage was legal in 18 US states, as well as the District of Columbia. In addition, civil unions are recognized in Colorado and several counties in Arizona. These laws continue to be contested in several states, however, so please visit the relevant state government website to get the most up-to-date information.

    The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) makes it legal for states where same-sex marriage is not allowed to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. If you are not a resident of the county or city you wish to marry in, you must sometimes still prove that your marriage will be legal in your home county or city in order to be allowed to marry there.

    Section 3 of DOMA was struck down by the US Supreme Court in June 2013, making it possible for the US government to recognize same-sex marriages. This is particularly relevant when it comes to being able to sponsor your spouse for a US visa. Same-sex spouses now have the same rights as opposite-sex spouses in terms of immigration benefits.

    The Wedding Ceremony
    After you have been issued your marriage license, you can be married by anyone who has been authorized by that state to perform weddings, be it a religious minister, justice of the peace, etc. Be sure to check the regulations on who can officiate your wedding in the city or county where you are getting married. Restrictions may also apply if you are bringing in your officiant from out of state.

    In the US, you do not need to have a separate civil and religious wedding ceremony. You just need one ceremony, and as long as it is officiated by someone authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in that county or city, where it takes place is completely up to you – in a place of religious worship, a court house, at your home, at the beach, etc. Whoever officiates your wedding will fill out the appropriate section of the marriage license after the ceremony and return that to the circuit court, where your marriage will be recorded.

    In addition, please also keep in mind that marriages which take place outside of the US are legally binding if they are officially recognized by the government of the country in which they are performed. So if you are living in the US, but want to get married in your home country or have a destination wedding at a tropical location, both of these options may also be possible.
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  • Applying for the License
    In some states, you and your spouse-to-be can each sign the application before a notary and mail it in, but in other states you must actually appear, both of you, and sign the application before an official at the office. You must prove your identity and date of birth. A driver's license or passport takes care of this. You might be asked to provide a certified copy of a divorce decree or a certificate of death if one of you had a prior marriage that ended in divorce or the death of the spouse. Some jurisdictions require you to produce a Social Security card.

    It's usually wise to call in and make an appointment to apply for the license. This is mandatory in some areas, like if you are applying for a license in San Diego. Usually you apply for a license in the area where you want to be married, not the place you live, if they are different.

    You generally do not need a blood test or a witness. However, a few states do require a witness when you come in to apply for a license.

    Fees vary from under $20 to over $50. Some states, like Indiana, charge over three times as much if you are not a resident of the state. Others have one fee for all applicants. Some licenses require a three-day waiting period before you can use them. Others can be used immediately when you get them.
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  • Determine if there is a waiting period. Many states have waiting periods before you can obtain your license, or before you can use that license to get married.
    In many states, you can receive your marriage license immediately. Some states, however, have a waiting period between one and six days between when you apply for your license and when you receive it. For example, in Pennsylvania, there is a 72-hour waiting period before you receive your license.
    In some states, there is also a waiting period between the time you receive your marriage license and when you can use it to get legally married. For example, New York has a 24-hour waiting period.
    If you do not observe these waiting periods, your marriage may not be legally valid.
    Waivers may be available under certain circumstances. For example, in New York, you may apply for a judicial waiver of the waiting period if your circumstances require you to get married immediately (e.g., your intended is being deployed in the military)
    If you are in a huge hurry, you can look into getting married in a state where there is no waiting period, or get married in Las Vegas. Clark County, Nevada is widely recognized as probably the easiest place to get legally married in the US.
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  • Decide on your surname. If you wish to change your legal surname once you are married, it’s easiest to do so when you are applying for the marriage license. Once your marriage is completed (also known as “solemnized” or “celebrated”), the name you provide on the license application will become your legal surname.
    Neither partner must change his or her surname, and surnames do not automatically change upon marriage.
    The Social Security Administration will accept marriage documents to legally change your name on Social Security records. If you decide to legally change your surname upon marriage, you must notify Social Security. Social Security cannot “automatically” change your surname.[13]
    Some states have specific restrictions on what surnames may be adopted, and some states have no restrictions at all. Check with your county clerk’s office to determine what restrictions (if any) apply in your state.
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  • Terminate any prior marriage. You cannot get married if you are already married to another person. Some states require proof that your prior marriage has been terminated by death, divorce, or annulment.
    In some states, however, you may certify that you are free to marry by signing a document or providing a notarized statement.
    If either you or your partner were previously married, you will likely need to provide information about those marriages on your application. For example, in the state of New York, you must be able to provide information regarding whether your former spouse is still living, and whether the marriage ended by divorce, annulment or death.
    Bring copies of your divorce decree (sometimes known as a Final Order of Divorce) or other dissolution documents with you when you apply. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, widowed applicants must bring a copy of their deceased spouse’s death certificate.
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  • Provide proof of identity when you apply for a marriage license. Each applicant must have at least one proof of their identity when applying for a marriage license. In most cases, you will also be required to provide your Social Security Number if you have one. The types of proof required and accepted vary by state and by jurisdiction.
    Government-issued photo IDs, such as passports or driver’s licenses, are generally accepted as proof of identity.
    Many states require your original birth certificate (or a certified copy) and your Social Security card as proof of your identity.
    You and your partner must bring physical copies of these proofs with you when you apply for the marriage license.
    If your original documents are in a foreign language, you must usually provide a certified translation into English, along with the original copy. A certified translation should be signed, dated, and contain a statement that attests to the accuracy of the translation.
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  • Meet the age requirement of the state where you are marrying. The age at which you can legally marry will vary depending on the state in which you are applying for the marriage license.
    In some counties, you will need to bring your original birth certificate (or a certified copy) as evidence of your age. For example, some Virginia counties require an original birth certificate to apply for a marriage license. However, other counties in the same state will not accept a birth certificate as proof of identity, and do not otherwise require applicants to present one.
    Check with your county or municipal court’s office to make sure that you meet the state’s minimum age requirement and have the appropriate documentation of your age.
    Many states will allow applicants to marry if one or both applicants are under the minimum age with parental consent. In some cases, such as in New York, a family court judge may also need to provide consent.[9] Emancipated minors may also marry without parental consent.
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  • Know who can marry in the United States. In the US, states have specific restrictions on who can and cannot marry. For example, individuals who cannot give informed consent, such as people with severe developmental disabilities, may not be able to marry. Restrictions vary by state, so you must research your state’s requirements. In general, the following restrictions will apply:
    Age. In most states, the legal age to marry is 18. In some states, you may be able to get married if you are younger than 18 by providing parental consent (and, in some cases, the consent of a judge).
    In Mississippi, parental consent is necessary for applicants under the age of 21. In Nebraska, the legal age to marry is 19. Persons younger than 19 must provide parental consent.
    Family relationship. All US states prohibit marriage between ancestors and descendants, such as grandparents and grandchildren, aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews, or parents and children. 20 states currently allow first cousins to get married. 6 additional states will allow first cousins to marry under certain circumstances (e.g., above a certain age or unable to reproduce).
    As of 2015, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
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  • Marriage license requirements vary depending on where you live and where you plan to be married. Each state has its own laws and regulations, and you must follow the law for the state in which you plan to be married. Use the information in this article to research marriage license requirements and ensure you follow the proper procedure to obtain one successfully.
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