Marriage in the United States

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Updated 2021-08-04 11:12

Marriage is a contract that commits two people emotionally, legally, and materially. In the US, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can get married legally.  

If you want to get married in the United States, first — congratulations on finding love. Even if you are not a resident in the country, you can still get married here. However, it is very important that you know and understand all the related proceedings.

Disclaimer:

Please note that the information provided in this article is valid at the moment of publication. However, as regulations may change (especially from state to state), it is strongly advised that you check the most up-to-date policies in appropriate sources before making your marriage license application plans.

General requirements

Whether you are a citizen of the country or not, you will need to meet the following requirements to get married in the US:

Both marrying parties need to be of the legal age of consent. In most states, this is 18 years old. However, marriages at a younger age may also be allowed with parental consent.

You can't be too closely related. The exact definition of “too close” varies from state to state — and in some places, it is legal to marry your first cousin.

You must be of reasonable mental capacity. This means that both partners need to understand what they are doing as well as the consequences of their actions.

Both parties need to be unmarried at the time of applying for a marriage license. Proper documentation will be required.

Marriage license

A marriage license is a document that authorizes you to get married in the United States. The rules on how, when and where you can obtain a marriage license may be different from state to state. Thus, we suggest that you contact the related administrative body at your location (a county clerk's office or marriage license bureau) to check about the related proceedings.

In most cases, you will need the following documents to apply for a marriage license:

  • A government-issued photo ID (driver's license or passport)
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security number (for US residents)
  • A divorce decree (if you were previously married and are currently divorced)
  • A death decree (if you were previously married and your spouse has passed)
  • Parental consent (if you are underage)
  • There is also a fee to be paid (the exact amount varies from state to state)

When to apply for a marriage license?

In most states, marriage licenses are only valid for specific periods of time — and these can range from days to months.

In most cases, there is also a waiting period, which can take up to a few days.

Thus, it is very important to make sure you don't get your marriage license too early or wait till the last minute to apply for it.

Marriage certificate

Once you have obtained your marriage license, you will need to get it signed by the officiant (a person recognized by the state who officiates your wedding) and your witnesses on the day of your wedding.

Following that, the officiant will send the license back to the clerk's office. In most cases, you will then be mailed your marriage certificate at your specified address. Alternatively, you may need to buy certified copies of your marriage certificate — you will need them if you decide to change your name later.

Note that the requirements above relate to making your union legal in the eyes of the law. If you are also performing a religious ceremony, additional requirements may apply.

Marriage regulations for non-citizens

Generally, the requirements for getting married in the US are the same for both citizens and non-citizens — aside from the need to provide social security numbers.

In its cases, non-citizens will be asked to provide passports as forms of identification. However, in some states, they may also be asked to provide certified copies of birth certificates.

Before making any wedding or travel plans, we suggest you check with the local county clerk/marriage official about the specifics of the proceedings and what documentation you need to provide so that your union is recognized in your home country.

If your home country is a member of The Hague Convention, this means that it has already officially agreed to recognize all the official documents obtained in other countries if they are attached to an apostille.

*An apostille is a certificate given to verify that the stamp/seal/signature on a document is authentic and official.

Note that when two non-citizens register a marriage in the United States, this does not, in any way, change their immigration status in the country. A marriage certificate will not provide you with a Green Card, give grounds for changing your visa type and so on.

Steps to take before getting married in the US:

  • Make sure all the required documentation is translated into English.
  • Check if your home country will recognize a marriage license obtained in the United States.
  • Note that if your marriage in the US violates the marriage policy in your home country, it will not be valid.
  • If you are traveling to the US specifically to get married and are inviting family and friends, make sure all the involved parties have proper travel documentation valid at the time of your trip.

Note that if you are in the US on a travel visa and plan to get married during your stay and leave before your visa expires, it's okay to do so. However, a travel visa should not be used to enter the United States to marry with the intention of staying in the country permanently. If this is your plan, you should apply for a fiancé or spouse visa.

Marrying a US citizen

Let's look at two scenarios here: the first one is that you and your future spouse are already both living in the United States, and the second one is that your future spouse is in the United States and you are not.

Marrying a US citizen while in the US

If you are already in the United States and intend to marry a US citizen, this will involve Adjustment of Status. After you have registered your marriage, you will be eligible to apply for a marriage-based Green Card.

With a marriage-based Green Card, you will be able to live and work anywhere in the United States. You will be granted permanent resident status and can then apply for US citizenship if you want to do so.

To get a Green Card, you will need a sponsor — in this case, it will be your spouse. You can typically apply for a Green Card right after you get your marriage certificate. There are generally no wait times or caps for marriage-based Green Cards. However, the process can still take quite a bit of time: from a few months to a couple of years.

Important:

You need to be aware of the 90-day rule. This rule is a USCIS (US Citizenship And Immigration Services) guideline. Its goal is to make sure that Green Card applicants from within the US haven't misled the officials on their initial applications.

The rule means that as a temporary visa holder (travel visa, work visa, etc.), you cannot apply for the Adjustment of Status within the first 90 days of your stay in the United States. If you do, there is a very strong chance that your application will be denied.

During your Green Card application process, your spouse will be your sponsor. This means that they will need to provide proof of sufficient funds to support you and also have all their tax papers in order. You will apply for your Green Card together with your sponsor — this process is called concurrent filing.

All the applications that are filed from within the United States go through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This requires a biometrics appointment and an in-person interview.

The purpose of the interview is to determine whether the relationship with your spouse is genuine. You need to provide honest answers to all the questions — otherwise, your application may be denied.

Marrying abroad

If you live outside the United States and intend to marry a US citizen, you have two options.

The first one is to get married outside the US. In this case, you will need to apply for a Green Card through a United States embassy or consulate. The process includes a medical exam, and an interview (among other things) and Dan takes quite a bit of time. However, once you get a Green Card, you will be able to start living and working in the US immediately.

Your second option is to go to the United States first on a K1 visa (fiancé visa), which will allow you to get married in the United States and then apply for the Adjustment of Status as described above.

In order to apply for the K1 visa, you will need to meet a number of requirements. One of the main requirements is that you must have met your fiancé in person within the previous 2 years. After receiving a fiancé visa and entering the US, the couple must marry within 90 days.

Getting married quickly

Now, as it has already been mentioned above, specific requirements and waiting times differ from state to state in the US. As a result, some states have become particularly popular as “quick wedding destinations” where the requirements are minimal and waiting times are short. Here are a few examples:

Las Vegas

Probably the most known destination for hassled-free I do, Las Vegas was featured in countless movies as the best place to elope and complete your wedding with an Elvis impersonator. There are good reasons for that.

Las Vegas has some of the most flexible state marriage laws in the country. There are no residency requirements, no waiting period or notice times. You will find lots of chapels and casinos that offer quick wedding packages — but while slots are typically easy to get, it is still safer to book in advance. You will need to decide on a few details (dress, flowers, decorations, etc.) — and you will need to arrange your own marriage license in advance. There is a fee to pay and you will need to present government-issued photo IDs.

New York

New York is another state with some of the most lenient and efficient marriage registration laws. The waiting period is just 24 hours, and there are no residency requirements. There are lots of options when it comes to locations, but if you want things to be really quick, you will probably head started to the Office of the City Clerk. Before going to the office, however, make sure to check the New York City Clerk's website for all the details. You will surely need to pay a fee and present government-issued photo IDs.

Hawaii

Hawaii is yet another popular destination for eloping. The islands' striking natural beauty is definitely a big factor in this — but so are the friendly marriage registration regulations. Just like in New York and Las Vegas, there are no residency requirements or waiting periods. What's more, you can start your license application online. Once again, there are lots of offers for quick packages and — and some of them even include a beach permit coordination if you want to hold your wedding on a beach. You will need to pay a fee and provide a valid ID.

Same-sex marriage

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court announced the decision to make same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states.

Same-sex marriages are treated the same as heterosexual marriages under US law — and this includes related immigration procedures.

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

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.