Can You Get Married in a State That You Don't Live In?

By Michelle Nati - Updated October 16, 2018
Bride and Groom enjoying in their love

There are few more significant decisions to make in life than marriage, and there are many important elements to consider in making the day you decide to say "I do" an effortless one. While many people get married close to home, others choose a destination wedding in another state. If you're considering traveling to tie the knot, there are plenty of locations across the United States to choose from, but legalities can vary from state to state regarding obtaining a marriage license, a marriage certificate and the ceremony itself.

Can You Get Married in Another State?

There's good news for anyone considering a destination wedding – you can get married in the location and state of your choice. No state in the country is off limits to anyone who is a permanent U.S. resident, and your union will be legally binding in your home state. There are, however, differing state laws as to how to go about getting your marriage license, performing the ceremony and obtaining a marriage certificate, all of which is necessary for a marriage to be legal.

In most states, the age of consent for marriage is between 16 and 18 years. Anyone considering getting married under the age of consent must have permission from their parents or a judge. Both parties must have the mental capacity to consent to the union and must be sober at the time of the marriage. Interracial marriages are legal in every state as are same-sex marriages as of 2016 with the federal passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

Marriage between close blood relatives, such as siblings or first cousins, are prohibited in the U.S., as are multiple, or polygamous, marriages.

Why You Would Get Married in Another State

Choosing to get married in another state can involve many factors: You may reside in one state and simply prefer to get married in another; you may wish to get married closer to your family or to the family of your spouse; you may want to shorten or skip the waiting period between obtaining a marriage license and getting married, which varies from state to state.

What Is a Marriage License?

To enter into a legally recognized marriage in the U.S., a couple must apply for a marriage license and show supporting documentation as proof of the facts listed on their application. A marriage license also allows the couple to legally marry in the state of their choice. All states require marriage licenses, but having a marriage license does not mean you're legally married. A marriage license is just the first step in getting married and functions to protect people from entering into an inappropriate or illegal marriage contract.

Is My Marriage License Valid in Another State?

A common question among couples who want to tie the knot in a destination location is, "Will our marriage license transfer from state to state?” The answer is no. A marriage certificate is legal proof that the union took place and is recognized in all 50 states, but a marriage license is not transferable. A marriage license isn't hard to get in a state that you don't reside in, but you'll need to be prepared to apply and have all the necessary paperwork ready to present to the applicable county clerk's office.

Each state's wait time between a marriage license application and issuance is different, as is the duration between the issuance of the license and the actual wedding ceremony. Many states have a three-day waiting period between license issuance and the ceremony, but some, like Nevada, have no waiting period at all. There, you can get married on the same day that you receive your marriage license.

Requirements for Filing Your Marriage License

Most states require that an application for a marriage license takes place at the town or county clerk's office where the wedding ceremony will be performed. Once you have determined the state and municipality for your wedding, contact the county clerk to discuss the specific marriage license requirements.

Some counties and states allow you to fill out your marriage license application online. In that case, you'll have a certain number of days with which to complete the application once you start it. If you don't finish it within the allotted amount of time, the online portal holding your unfinished application system may delete your request, and you'll have to start over.

Some marriage licenses are valid only for a specific time period, and this also varies from state to state. In some states, you can be required to use your marriage license within 30 days after receiving it, while in others, like Nevada, you can have up to a year. Some states have no marriage license expiration date, which means you can get married whenever you like.

When applying for a marriage license, be sure to have your vital supporting documents on hand. In most cases, you and your future spouse must show a valid form of photo ID such as a passport, a driver's license or a military ID with additional identification in the form of a Social Security card or birth certificate. To complete the application process quickly and easily, make sure the documents are current and government-certified, and remember to bring photocopies with you as some offices may require them.

Some states also require a premarital blood test for illnesses such as venereal disease, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, sickle cell anemia and rubella. Sometimes, a physical exam is also required. You may need to submit proof of an annulment, a divorce or the death of a previous spouse.

The cost of a marriage license application ranges from $25 to over $100, depending upon the county of issuance. Note that some counties accept only cash payments. Some states will discount the fee if the couple completes a marital preparation course. Marriage preparation programs teach coping skills to couples to enhance communication and conflict-resolving skills in the marriage.

State Requirement for Your Ceremony

After the issuance of your marriage license and the completion of the waiting period, you can get married. The ceremony can take place anywhere you like including a courthouse, a private residence, a church or a luxury resort. But whoever officiates your wedding must legally be able to do so. Each state's requirements differ, so check with the county clerk to find out the legalities for officiants.

All states allow recognized members of the clergy, judges, court clerks and justices of the peace to perform a marriage, but in some instances, even clergy must be certified or licensed to officiate. In some states, notary publics can perform weddings as can other public officials like mayors or governors. In others, like California, anyone can marry a couple if they apply to do so with the county clerk's office to become a Deputy Commissioner of Marriages for the day of the ceremony.

Once the wedding ceremony is over, the officiant signs your marriage license. It is then returned to the county clerk's office and recorded. Afterward, the county records office where your wedding took place issues a marriage certificate.

Are Witnesses Required at an Out of State Wedding?

As part of your pre-wedding tasks, it's important to know how many witnesses you'll need to get married. Some states require them, but some do not. Check with the county clerk's office of your wedding destination as to what the requirements are. Most states require up to two witnesses, but there are several that don't require any.

Witnesses have two primary functions – to be present at the ceremony and to sign the marriage license. Their signatures signify the marriage as legal and binding. Witnesses do not need to be present when the bride and groom apply for the marriage license at the start of the process.

Anyone can be a witness. Some couples choose the traditional route by using their best man and maid of honor, while others select family members or friends. Those who decide to elope sometimes use complete strangers, as they may be the only choice for witnesses. This is acceptable as long as they are present at the ceremony, have an understanding of what's going on and can sign the marriage license when the service is over.

What Is the Purpose of a Marriage Certificate?

A marriage certificate is the recorded proof of your union and contains information regarding you and your spouse, including your names, when and where you were married and the name of the officiant and witnesses.

Marriage certificates come in two forms, certified and informational. A certified marriage certificate has a raised seal on it and often comes on security paper, while an informational copy is just a plain printed copy of a marriage certificate that has no seal.

The only persons who can request a certified copy of a marriage certificate are the people named on the document, their spouses (if they are no longer married to each other) and their immediate family members.

Which Kind of Marriage Certificate Do You Need?

A certified copy of your marriage certificate is the only copy accepted for anything legal or government-related including changing your name or getting a new Social Security card or driver's license. For doing research and in other cases that aren't government-related, using an informational copy of your marriage certificate should be sufficient.

How Do You Order Your Marriage Certificate?

To get your marriage certificate, you'll need to have the proper supporting documents as required by the county records office at the location of your wedding. Some states also require that you fill out a request form for your marriage certificate before making payment. Costs and methods for payment vary from state to state. Be sure to contact the records office in question or look online beforehand to find out exactly what you need.

The easiest way to get your marriage certificate is to request it in person, but some cities and states also allow you to apply online. With the help of a certified vital records company, you can order a copy of your marriage certificate, although it is more expensive to do so and may take longer to receive. Some states also allow you to fax a request for a marriage certificate, but, as with ordering online, it may cost a little more and take longer to get.

Most places will not allow phone requests for marriage certificates because there's no way to show the needed documents, but there are a few that may allow you to request an informational copy of your certificate.

Consulting Legal Help for Marrying Out of State

For some couples who want a better understanding of the requirements for out-of-state marriages, a local family law attorney can help by providing legal assistance with applying for a marriage license, receiving a marriage certificate and other issues pertaining to marriage in that state.

About the Author

Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.

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