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Marriage Legislation: Getting Married in the United States

Note: There may be topics in this article unrelated to the State of California.

San Diego, CA – Many, many congratulations on your marriage!

Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people, binding them together on an emotional, legal and material level.

If you’re planning to get married in the US, it is important that you are well-informed of the various marriage-related laws. Because if you aren’t, you may land yourself in unnecessary trouble and face different kinds of discrepancies in future. This marriage legislation guide aims to make you aware of key legal requirements for your wedding to be conducted in a smooth, lawful manner.

Legal Rights and Benefits of Married Couples

The Federal Supreme Court of US

Every state in the US has its own set of marriage laws. However, the federal government has some laws and benefits that are common to every couple, regardless of which state they belong to or marry in.

Some of these legal rights include:

The right to file tax returns jointly
The right to inherit property and assets
The right to make decisions about child’s future
The right to sponsor a spouse for a US migration visa
The right to avail government schemes and employment benefits
Right to make medical decisions

Couples that get married in the United States are entitled to all these and many other federal government schemes. However, it is important to note that your taxes aren’t going to reduce just because you are married. Even if you decide to file your taxes individually, you should expect no privilege.

Obtaining a Marriage License

Getting a marriage license is a prerequisite, if you are getting married in the US. No matter where you are in the US, you can visit the courthouse or the vital records office of your area to schedule the application process. You and your partner will not be deemed legally married until the marriage license is duly filled out, signed and then sent back to the courthouse or the vital records office.

However, marriage license requirements vary from one state to another. Depending on where you reside or where you plan to hold the marriage ceremony, you need to adhere to the state-specific legislation.

Here’s what you should know before applying for a marriage license:

Age Limit: This is specific to where you live in the US. In some counties, you may need to produce your birth certificate at the courthouse. Make sure you fulfill the minimum age limit criteria. In some states, getting married below the expressed minimum age is permissible but it needs to be supported by parental consent. Additionally, you may also need to seek the approval of a court judge in many states. In most states of the US, the legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

Proof of Identity: Both the applicants must provide at least one proof of their identity. If you have a Social Security Number, you’ll need to submit this information as well in most cases. Proofs of identities acceptable by the law also varies from one state to another. You may be asked for any of these documents – passport, driving license, birth certificate, Social Security Card etc. You’ll need to submit physical copies of whichever of these documents is required.

Termination of Previous Marriage: You are not allowed to get married, if you are in a marriage contract that is still incumbent on you. In case your previous marriage has been terminated by way of death of your spouse, divorce or annulment, proof of the same must be given as per the law in some states. Even if you or your partner was married before but the contract has now been legally ended, you’ll need to let the offices know while applying for the marriage license.

Surname: If you intend to adopt a new surname after your marriage, this can be easily done along with the process of obtaining the marriage license. All you need to do is mention your new surname on the marriage license form and after your marriage is complete, you are ready to use that surname. For more information on changing your surname, you can contact your county’s clerk office.

The validity of a marriage license is an important concern. In most states, the duration for which your marriage license remains in effect varies between 30 and 60 days. This means the marriage license must be obtained at least a week before the date of your wedding. If you get married after the validity of your marriage license has expired, your marriage will not be considered legal.

Also, it should be kept in mind that one or both spouses will need to register their presence physically at the courthouse, the city hall or town office so as to complete the application process for the marriage license. In many states, you can apply online for a marriage license. For example, if you are getting married in New York, you can access and fill up the application online. But after that you’ll need to visit the concerned state government office to submit all the necessary documents in person so that the process can be completed in a proper manner.

Common Law Marriages

Only a few states in the US acknowledge common law marriages. If you get married without obtaining a marriage license or have your marriage solemnized by a ceremony, you’ll be deemed legally married.

As per the common law marriage, a married couple is entitled to the same rights and benefits as a legally married couple.

There are several misconceptions about common law marriage. For anyone looking to get marriage by way of common law, it is important to understand that only living together isn’t enough proof that you are married.

To enable your common law marriage to be considered valid, you must fulfill certain strict criteria.

These key requirements include:

Both the partners must live together.
Each partner must treat each other as a married couple.
Both the partners must have lived together for a considerable period of time.
Both partners must intend to get married.

There is a widely accepted consensus across the US that every state will consider a common law marriage held in another state as valid. However, many states have questioned the validity of this type of marriage from time to time. Currently, states that allow and recognize common law marriage include Texas, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

In places like Alabama and Rhode Island, the state law doesn’t explicitly permit common law marriages.

To find out whether your common law marriage is valid in the state you are presently living in, you should seek a family attorney’s consultation. An attorney will provide you with accurate information on common law marriage and explain how it impacts your common-law relationship.

Marriage Requirements for Non-US Citizens

All the states of the US allow non-citizens to get married in the country. The marriage license requirements are same for both US and non-US citizens. Passports are usually accepted as the proof of identity. However, non-US citizens may need to produce some other documents, as necessitated by state laws. In some cases, submission of certified copies of birth certificates is mandatory.

If one or both the partners happen to be non-US citizens, doing some research in advance in this regard is a high recommend. When two non-citizens get married in the US, it doesn’t affect their immigration rights in any way. Neither do the partners receive any privileges in terms of immigration rights.

If an American citizen plans to marry a non-US citizen who doesn’t have a green card or a visa, then a K-1 nonimmigrant fiancé(e) visa will need to be acquired. In this case, after the non-citizen spouse has filed an application at the US consulate, both the spouses will be called in for a joint interview. The interview is conducted to ascertain whether the couple has been living together for a significant period of time and then grant a visa on the very ground. The marriage must also be completed before the expiry date of the K-1 nonimmigrant fiancé(e) visa.

Likewise, there are different requirements in the case of a US green card holder marrying a non-citizen. It is important to note that a marriage in the US cannot be conducted on a travel visa. A travel visa only serves the purpose of entering the US, and it’s no substitute for finance and spouse visas.

Therefore, all crucial documents should be gathered before getting married in any state of the US. If any of these documents is written in a non-English language, they will need to be translated into English. Most importantly, a couple should examine and find out whether their marriage in the US will be legally acknowledged in their home country as well. If a US-based marriage, in any way, conflicts with the public marriage policy of a couple’s home country, then their marriage will automatically become invalid. In case of a destination wedding too, you should make sure that all your friends and relatives who will be attending the function carry with them all the necessary travel documents to avoid any kind of hassle later.

Marrying a US Citizen for a Green Card – and Getting Citizenship

A green card and a US citizenship are are not the same thing. While marrying a US citizen can pave the path to obtaining a green card, it doesn’t immediately qualify you for a US citizenship.

Before you are ready to apply for a green card, there are some specific requirements that must be met. Once you have completed your marriage with a US citizen, you can be referred to as the immediate relative of your spouse. Now your spouse, who is a US citizen, should initiate the green card application process for you by submitting a visa petition (Form I-130) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The process also necessitates that you present documents as proof of your marriage in the US. Apart from submitting the marriage certificate, you’ll also need to prove that your marriage was conducted in good faith.

The rest of the application process is an elaborate one. If you are a legal immigrant who didn’t actually enter the US to get married, such activity will be subject to visa fraud. To avoid this complexity, you should remember to adjust your status, which is another stage of this lenghty application process.

After all the essential paperwork has been submitted, the USCIS will hold an interview to move forward with the process. If you happen to be an illegal migrant, you’ll need the help of an immigration lawyer.

One key prerequisite for being granted a marriage green card is that you are not found inadmissible. Section 212 of the the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) outlines all the reasons for which an intending immigrant can be declared as inadmissible. Common grounds on which inadmissibility can be established include involvement in certain criminal offenses, some specific physical and mental illnesses or violation of the rules of the immigration laws.

As the spouse of a US citizen, you are a fortunate person. You don’t have to wait for a period of five long years after receiving the green card to apply for a US citizenship. If you and your partner have stayed in a marriage relationship for three years after getting the green card, you can apply for citizenship.

Steps to Follow After the Wedding

A marriage license is a legal permission for a couple to get married whereas a marriage certificate is proof that you are your partner are legally married. So, after getting married, you need to collect the marriage certificate too. In some states, after filing has been done at the county or the city records, the marriage certificate is sent to the couple via post. Or else, the couple may need to submit a request for the same and collect it directly after paying a nominal fee.

Obtaining the marriage certificate is crucial because this document will serve as the proof of your marriage in your home country. If your home country is part of Hague Convention, you will need to legalize your marriage internationally by attaching your marriage certificate to an apostille.

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