Marriage, Defined

By Lauren Williams

In the United States, marriage is regulated by civil authorities, meaning the laws of each individual state govern it.  These laws, in general, provide that marriage is a civil contract between the two parties, husband and wife.  So, even though many people are married in a church in a religious ceremony, the religious aspect is secondary to the applicable state law with respect to the marriage.  This is evident in the state’s ability to regulate marriage.

In order to get married, in most jurisdictions, you have to obtain a marriage license.  On the face of it, this may seem strange.  But, the licensing and marriage ceremony offer concrete proof that a couple actually are married and subject to the legal ramifications that come with being married.  It is important to keep in mind that every jurisdiction is different to some degree; especially in regards to what elements a couple or individual has to satisfy to obtain the license and become legally married.  To learn what the requirements are in your state, call your local county clerk or registrar’s office.

It is also important to find out who can solemnize the marriage, or, more simply put, officiate your wedding.  Again, most if not all states have a law in regards to this issue.  All states allow named persons who are both religious and civil officers to conduct marriages.  Civil officers include judges, justices of the peace, court clerks and others that are statutorily authorized.  As far as a religious ceremony, check with the person who you want to conduct the marriage to see if they are authorized and then follow up with the clerk’s office to make sure it is legitimate.  Because it is sometimes difficult to determine who is a religious figure, do your homework and find out for sure what the legal requirements are and that your marriage is going to be legally recognized by your state.

If you want to get married in a different state where the requirements are less burdensome or in a foreign country or at sea, check with the clerk or registrar’s office in that area.  In most instances, a foreign marriage, or a marriage ceremony performed in a different state or country, will be recognized in your state.  But, you certainly would not want to get married somewhere and then learn afterwards that you are not “legally” married.  If you have any questions that the clerk/registrar is unwilling or unable to answer, you may want to contact an attorney in your area who can answer these questions for you.

Finally, make sure you understand what you have to do after the ceremony to make sure that it is legally recognized.  For example, you may have to record the marriage license and you may have to have someone witness and affirm in writing that the marriage occurred.

Lauren Williams

About The Author

Lauren Williams is a legal writer for WomensDivorces.com and the USA Law Network.