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How to Get Married in the United States

Are you planning to tie the knot soon? The process for getting married in the United States can be different than in other countries, but that doesn’t mean you should get cold feet! The SABEResPODER team has created this simple and easy-to-understand guide about the marriage process in the U. S. and everything you should know about planning your upcoming wedding. Continue reading to learn more and get ready for the big day!

Who Can Get Married in the United States?

In the United States, any person of legal age may marry as long as they meet the legal requirements established in the state they wish to marry. 

American citizens

All persons with U.S. citizenship, whether by birth or naturalization, may marry in any U.S. state.

Immigrants with legal status

Non-U.S. citizens with a legal status (such as permanent residency, a student visa, or work visa) can get legally married in the U.S.

Immigrants without legal status

In most states, individuals without legal status who want to marry either a U.S. citizen or an immigrant with legal status only need to present identification showing that they're over 18 years of age in order to qualify for a marriage license.

Foreign tourists

Individuals with a tourist visa who wish to get married on U.S. soil may only do so during the duration of their visa. 

Keep in mind: We recommend you check the state's laws where you wish to get married before applying for a marriage license.  

Types of Marriages in the United States

There are several ways to classify the types of marriages in the United States. The most common is the one that distinguishes between civil and religious unions.

Civil Marriage

Civil marriage is a legal union of two people (regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs) that is registered within the states public registry offices. A civil marriage can be performed anywhere, such as an event hall or a garden, just as long as the fees of the legal official are paid so that the wedding is valid.

Religious Marriage

The most traditional type of marriage is the religious marriage, also known as a church wedding, which is practiced as per the customs of the couple’s religious beliefs. This type of marriage is officiated by a religious leader , such as a priest, pastor, or minister. State laws authorize who can legally perform a marriage in their respective state.

Same-Sex Marriage

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Traditionally, civil marriage in the United States had been recognized only for heterosexual couples even though there was no formal definition of marriage in federal law. In 1996, this changed when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed, defining marriage as the civil union of a man and a woman.

Since then, several LGBTQ rights organizations throughout the U.S. fought for the legal right of same-sex couples to enter into civil marriages. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional and made same-sex marriages legal as long as they met the same requirements previously reserved for heterosexual couples.

For more information on same-sex marriages, visit this U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) page.

Requirements for Civil Marriage in the U.S.

When a couple decides to get married, they must comply with all the state's requirements. The most common conditions that must be met before the big day are: 

Marriage license 

One of the most important documents you need to get married in the United States is a marriage license, which is a document granted to the couple to get married. The bride and groom can apply for a marriage license at any vital records office and will have to pay a fee, which can range from $5 to $120 depending on the state.

It's important to note that in most states marriage licenses have an expiration date. If for some reason the couple decides to postpone the date of the wedding, their marriage license will lose its validity and the couple will need to apply for a new one. 

Legal age

In the United States, both parties must be of legal age (as per state law). The minimum age to marry is 18 years old in most states, however, for some, it’s 21 years years of age. To prove that both parties are of legal age, they must present any form of legal identification or birth certificate. 

Marital status

Although it may seem a bit obvious, a requirement for marriage is that both partners are unmarried when they apply for their marriage license. Please note that in some cases, additional evidence may be requested to prove your marital status:

  • Divorce: If any of the marrying parties were previously married but divorced, they must present their corresponding divorce certificate to the vital records office. 
  • Widowhood: If one of the marrying parties is a widow, they must present the death certificate of their former spouse. This is required to prove that they are legally single.

Waiting period

Some states require couples to comply with a waiting period before the marriage ceremony. This additional time period is intended to allow the couple to think carefully about whether or not they want to take this big step. In states like Illinois and New York, the waiting period is only one day; in Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, it is 3 days.

Witnesses

On the day of the wedding, the parties must have witnesses present to sign the marriage certificate in order for it to be valid. While the number of witnesses can vary from state to state, the most common number needed is two.

What Documents Do I Need to Get Legally Married?

As previously mentioned, the most important document a couple needs to get married is the marriage license. In in order to apply for one, they must present the following documents at the public records office (usually the municipal, county or city office):

  • Photo identification (passport or state driver’s license)
  • Certified copies of the birth certificates of both parties
  • Proof of unmarried status (death certificate of previous spouse or divorce decree)
  • Parental consent if underage (usually under 18); you may also need to have parents physically present if underaged
  • Social security number, green card or other forms of identification

Can Two Foreigners Marry In the U.S.?

As mentioned above, any couple, regardless of whether they're U.S. citizens or non-citizens without legal status, can get married in the U.S. as long as they meet the following basic requirements:

  • Be of legal age
  • Can prove they are single
  • Present documents that can prove their identity
  • Pay the corresponding fees and/or charges

However, some states may ask for additional requirements. One of the most common is being able to provide a certified translation of the required documents of both parties if they are in a language other than English. 

How To Have a Legal Religious Marriage Ceremony in the U.S.

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If a couple wishes to legally marry through a religious ceremony, they must comply with the specific requirements of their preferred religion. In the Catholic faith (one of the most widely practiced religions in the Hispanic community), the religious marriage requirements are:

Required marriage documents

If a couple wishes to marry in the Catholic Church in the United States, they need to present specific documentation about their upcoming marriage and history with the church. The couple must present the following records at least four months in advance of their ceremony (with the exception of the marriage license which will be provided as per state guidelines):

  • Baptismal certificates for each person
  • A civil marriage license
  • Two witnesses
  • The name of the church where the couple wants to get married
  • The name of the priest performing the ceremony
  • A letter stating if the marriage ceremony will include mass or not
  • Proof that both parties have attended an approved marriage preparation program

Keep in mind: If one of the marrying parties does not have an official baptismal certificate, whether they belong to another religion or don't profess any,  the Catholic Church will allow the marriage if they request a disparity of worship (also known as the disparity of cult).

Premarital course

Some churches require that the couple attend an approved marriage preparation program. However, this requirement is not mandatory in all churches, so the couple needs to ask if they should attend one before deciding on the church. The duration of this course can vary  from days to weeks and even months depending on the church.

Wedding mass (liturgy)

To officiate the wedding, the couple must decide between two wedding options:

  • Nuptial mass: This can only be officiated by a priest of the Catholic Church and both parties must be baptized under that faith.
  • Matrimony without mass: This wedding can be officiated by a priest or a deacon and one of the contracting parties can be of another religion or not profess any faith.

Witnesses

In order for the marriage to be valid, the couple must present four witnesses, two for the marriage ceremony and the other two for the religious ceremony. The witnesses must: 

  • Be of legal age
  • Not be relatives of either marrying parties
  • Be people who know the couple well

Public announcement

The Catholic Church requires that the marrying couple publicly announces their union. Usually, upcoming wedding announcements are published in the church’s bulletin.

Marriage consent

The couple’s mutual consent to marry is fulfilled during the ceremony when they exchange their vows. After the couple is blessed by the priest, they consent to the marriage stating the common phrase: "I __ receive you __ as my spouse, and promise to be faithful to you in prosperity and adversity, in sickness and in health, loving and respecting you throughout my life."

The signing of the marriage certificate

The signing of the marriage certificate before the church is the most important requirement as it legally validates the union of the couple. The marriage certificate must be signed by both parties, two of their witnesses, and it must bear the name of the archdiocese where the wedding took place.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions? We have answers! Here are some of the most frequently asked questions the SABEResPODER team has received about getting married in the United States: 

How much does a civil wedding cost in the United States?

As we previously mentioned, the price of a marriage license can range anywhere between $5 to $120 and can differ depending on the state the marriage will take place. The average price for a wedding ceremony and reception is about $25,000 on average. However, the actual cost of your own wedding can vary depending on the type of ceremony you and your partner wish to have and how many guests you will want to invite.

Can I get married if I'm divorced?

Yes, any divorced person can get married in the United States if they present their divorce decree at their local public records office.

Does the marriage license expire?

Yes, the marriage license has an expiration date, however, it can differ from state to state. If the marriage license expires because the couple has decided to postpone their wedding, they can easily apply for a new license when they're ready to take the big step. 

Wishing You Joy, Love, and Happiness

A toast to the happy couple! While we understand that getting married in the United States may seem confusing, we hope that this guide has served you and your partner in preparing for the big day. From all of us at the SABEResPODER team, we hope that you have an unforgettable wedding and that your marriage is full of joy, love, and happiness!