One of the great things about getting married in the United States is that you can get married anywhere you want -- next door or 3,000 miles away. However, just because you can get married anywhere you want doesn't mean there won't be certain rules to follow once you get there. Although state laws vary, common requirements include being legally able to marry, obtaining a marriage license and participating in a marriage ceremony.
Marriage Must Be Legal
Generally, to marry in the U.S., you must be at least 18 years old; if one or both of you are younger than 18, consent from your parents or a judge will likely be required. Other potential bars to marriage include still being married to someone else, being close blood relatives, such as brother and sister or first cousins, or lacking the mental capacity to consent to marriage, such as being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Marriage License Obtained From County Clerk
Regardless of which state you choose to marry in, the first step is applying for a marriage license. Typically, this is obtained at the county clerk's office in the county and state where you plan to marry. For example, if you intend to marry in Los Angeles, California, you would obtain a marriage license from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Although state laws vary, court clerks typically require both parties to apply for the license in person, pay a fee, present government-issued identification and provide background information, such as Social Security number, date and location of birth, parents' names and birthplaces, and whether there are any previous marriages.
Must Get Married Before License Expires
Once you've obtained the marriage license, you have a limited amount of time in which to get married before your license expires. The length of time you have depends on the laws of the state where you decide to marry. For example, if you marry in California, you have 90 days from the date your license was issued. In Minnesota, it's six months; in Illinois, 60 days; and in Nevada, it's one year. Make sure you know the time limit for your state.
Officiant Must Legally Be Able to Perform the Ceremony
Getting married means participating in a marriage ceremony. The type of ceremony you have is up to you. It can be anything from getting married at the courthouse with only the two of you and witnesses present to an extravagant affair in a luxury resort. However, not just anybody can preside over the proceedings. The person who officiates the ceremony must legally be able to marry you. Typically, these are judges and religious officiants, but state requirements differ, so check with the county clerk's office where you plan to marry to find out who qualifies to perform your ceremony. For example, in California, a relative or friend can be deputized as a "Deputy Marriage Commissioner for the Day." Once approved, he is legally authorized to officiate your marriage on the day of the ceremony. Once the ceremony is complete, the officiant signs your marriage license and returns it to the clerk's office, where it is recorded. The clerk then issues a marriage certificate as proof of your new marriage, or you may have to request one.