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Marriage is a contract that commits two people emotionally, legally, and materially. In the U.S., both same sex and opposite sex couples are allowed to get married.

Formalities

To get married in the United States you must first obtain a marriage licence, celebrate your wedding, and then obtain your marriage certificate. The laws tend to vary by individual states, so make sure to check your state’s regulations before going to request a marriage licence.

In most states, the legal age for marriage is 18. If you are under 18 years old, there are additional requirements such as parental consent and approval from a judge. If you have been married in the past, you must provide proof of divorce.

You can get married in the United States even if you and your partner are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the country. To fulfill the formalities, simply produce the required identification (usually documents indicating your place of birth, address, and education level). As long as you have the appropriate paperwork, a licence will be granted according to normal procedure.

Marriage licences are issued at county courthouses. Clerks will also give you a brochure on genetic defects and the risks of sexually transmitted diseases. Note that licences are valid only for a certain period from the date of issue. If you do not legally get married within this period, you will have to apply for a new licence.

Types of marriages

Some states recognise the common law marriage. This means that after cohabitating for a certain period, a couple gains the same rights over property and taxes as a legally married couple, without going through the formal process of actually getting married. In other parts of the world, this is usually called a relationship visa or life partnership visa.

California is currently the only state issuing confidential marriage licences, meaning that no witnesses are needed to grant the marriage certificate and the document is not part of the public record. This type of marriage must be celebrated in the county issuing the licence.

Immigration

When two non-citizens marry in the U.S., no special immigration rights are granted. Immigration rights vary depending on whether one party is a U.S. citizen or just a green card holder.

American citizens marrying a non-citizen with no green card or visa will need to obtain a K-1 nonimmigrant fiancé(e) visa. The non-citizen fiancé(e) may file an application at the U.S. consulate in the country of residence. Thereafter, you will be invited for an interview in which you will be asked to produce proof of your life together with your partner. Once you obtain your visa, you have 90 days to get married in the U.S. before the K-1 nonimmigrant fiancé(e) visa expires.

If a U.S. green card holder marries a non-citizen, they will need to apply independently for a U.S. visa and wait until it is granted before entering the country. Some types of visas (such as L-1 and H-1 worker visas) allow a new spouse to apply for a dependent visa as soon as they get legally married.

 Good to know: If you marry a U.S. citizen and receive a green card, you may request citizenship after having resided in the U.S. for three years.

Divorce

In the United States, neither the consent of both spouses nor a “fault” or reason is required to dissolve a marriage. One party may request the divorce and the other cannot stop the process. As with marriage laws in the United States, divorce laws also vary by state.

 Important: The state laws where the divorce is requested will govern the divorce, not the state law where the marriage took place.

 Useful links:

Naturalization for spouses of U.S. citizens
Immigration FAQ for binational couples

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