Marriages are beautiful, aren’t they? It is incredible enough that you can meet that special person and fall in love with them. To then go a step further and decide to spend the rest of your life with them, it’s the stuff of dreams. This is why we cheer for marriage. It’s why weddings are so magical when you witness them.

As you plan for a memorable wedding, you should also get familiar with the legal side of marriages. There are things you should know. What is a marriage contract? What makes a marriage contract valid? What types of valid marriage contracts apply, and in what situation? What is a marriage license? What is the cost of getting a marriage license? The only way you can answer these questions is by gaining a perfect understanding of the legal side of marriages. You need to know how important they are to the marital experience, in the present and future.

As you read this post, you’ll learn all there is to know about the legal side of marriages. We hope what you learn will help you get the best deal as you head towards marital bliss.

Different Types Of Marital Contracts

Marriage contracts are voluntary agreements signed by two people before or after marriage. These agreements protect each party’s interest, especially on child custody rights and property issues. Marriage contracts are important for several reasons. One of those reasons is the role they could play if the couple have to go their separate ways in the future.

Some people believe only rich people should bother with a marriage contract. Some other people believe getting a marriage means both parties are not in love with each other. Both premises are wrong. Marital contracts are for anyone. It does not matter whether they’re super-rich couples or middle class couples with 9-5 jobs.

There are three types of marriage contracts, and we’ll explain more about each one below:

Prenuptial Marriage Agreement

This is the most popular type of marriage contract. It is popular due to high-profile cases involving celebrities and pop culture figures. It is also known as antenuptial agreement or prenups. A prenuptial is only valid if done before the couple exchanges a vow. Like all forms of marriage contracts, prenups are applicable to everyone, not just super-wealthy couples

Prenups demand full disclosure of assets, financial expectations, debts, and financial objectives in the marriage from both parties. It also encourages negotiation between the couple. By signing this agreement, they will discuss critical issues and find a common ground. Such issues include spousal support and assets division. This helps to protect each of them in case of a divorce or separation.

Postnuptial Agreement

A postnuptial agreement is not very different from a prenup. The only difference is that while couples sign prenups before vows are exchanged, you can only sign post-nuptials after the wedding. Here’s why.

Sometimes couples get married and realize they don’t agree on some critical issues. They both may have different approaches towards savings, expenditure, or investment. This often happens when marital tension occurs. At this level, a divorce is not usually on the cards. In such cases, the couples may sign a formal agreement. This will help keep the tension in check and chart a course for the marriage. That way, there is a provision for fair protection for each party.

With a postnuptial agreement, couples can deal with their differences. These conversations on income, assets, spousal support, and property division will come in handy if their marriage hits the rocks in the future.

Separation Agreement

This type of marriage contract is not as common as the other two, so many might not know of their existence. They don’t talk about it in the movies or on social media.

A separation agreement is for couples who want to exit their marriages, but don’t want to give up the legal protection it offers. The state of New York recognizes separation agreements. It caters to issues such as property division, child custody, and support. The last two issues are not addressed by prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

Separation agreements are of two types:

Separation Under a Decree/Judgement

This is when a couple signs a separation agreement following a court judgment.

Separation Under a Written Agreement

The couple, of their own volition, decides to sign a separation agreement.

What’s The Difference Between a Marriage Contract And a Marriage Certificate?

The legal side of marriages has its vocabulary of terminologies, just as the aesthetic side. Sometimes, these terminologies confuse people outside the law profession and get mixed up.

You’ll have to complete lots of paperwork when getting married. This is to certify that you’re married in the eyes of the law. The marriage license and certificate are important to this recognition and must not be treated lightly.

Marriage License

A marriage certificate and a marriage license are two different things, yet they share some similarities. Marriage licenses are sometimes referred to as marriage contracts. They are public records issued by county clerks in your state of residence.

The biggest difference between a marriage certificate and a marriage license is that the latter is given to couples eligible to be married BEFORE they get married. However, you can only receive copies of your marriage certificate after the wedding. These are some of the eligibility requirements for a marriage license:

  • The two individuals must be of legal age— 18 years or older, or 16 in some states but with parental consent.
  • Must not be married at the time of issuance.
  • Both individuals must show a mental capacity to sign a contract.
  • They must be unrelated to each other.

One important thing to do is make an appointment before you visit the county clerk. It will help to reduce the waiting time. The documentation required is not the same everywhere. You may need to go with a driver’s license or a passport. Sometimes, they even require a birth certificate. You will also likely have to provide information on your parents, like. This will include birth names, place of birth, and so on. Do keep that in mind.

If you have been married before and got a divorce, you will be required to present a divorce certificate. A death certificate could be required if you’ve lost a spouse. Also, if you have plans to change your name after the wedding, this is the perfect time to do so. While you will still use your maiden name until the marriage ceremony, the state will know your new name beforehand.

Still, it would help if you did not leave any of this to chance. Make some findings on what the requirements are in your state. If all documentation is in place, you can complete the entire process in less than an hour.

A marriage license typically has a validity period, ranging from 30 days to a year, depending on the state you reside in. This enables the couple to perform the official marriage ceremony. If the validity period expires before you can be married, you’ll have to re-apply with little difficulty.

Marriage Certificate

legal marriage contract

Marriage certificates are crucial records you get after you and your partner have signed the marriage license during the wedding ceremony, with the help of the officiant present. This document will prove that the wedding indeed happened and you and your partner are legally married.

The officiant will file the document in the days following the wedding at your local county registry office. Once this is registered correctly, you and your partner will receive a certified copy each to complete the process. You can also get extra copies on request.

Like a birth certificate, the marriage certificate signifies an important life event and is thus regarded as a vital record.

Why Do We Need a Marriage License?

You might be wondering what all the fuss is about marriage licenses. A marriage license is a legal document that proves the state recognizes your upcoming wedding. It requires your signature and your partner’s. In some states, witnesses are required to sign as well.

Any wedding held without a marriage license is not sanctioned by the government, and you won’t be liable to get a marriage certificate if you don’t have a license. Your marriage certificate, among other things, gives you some economic benefits. This includes access to your spouse’s Medicare, social security, or even disability benefits, if applicable. You can get Visa approvals for your partner, which helps during alimony, separation, or divorce.

With a wedding license and the marriage certificate that comes after it, you get the legal right to make important medical decisions on behalf of your spouse. You can even file for adoption or the role of a stepparent if your partner had children before marriage. You’ll be able to sign lease renewals in place of your partner, and in case they die, you can make burial plans and consent to post-mortem procedures. It also gives you access to your partner’s retirement benefits and worker’s compensation.

Marriage licenses also come in handy after the wedding, when you or your spouse must carry out certain banking transactions, insurance deals, or file taxes.

Where Can We Get a Marriage License?

legal marriage contract

You can only get a marriage license in person. Thus you and your fiance must be at the local county clerk’s office to get one. This is necessary because you’ll have to provide information and swear oaths that the information provided is true and correct.

The application you’ll sign will require you to:

  • Provide your respective identities.
  • Prove you’re legally eligible to be married.
  • Pay the required administration fee.

After applying, you’ll have to wait some days before your license is issued. How long you wait typically depends on the state you want to get married in. If you’re not getting married in your home state, then you should check out travel.state.gov to find out the requirements for the state where you’ll be getting married. Most marriage counselors advise you to carry out the necessary findings months before your planned wedding date to avoid problems. Sometimes, officiants prefer to have the license signed during the wedding rehearsal, which is a perfect idea.

“What If I’m Having a Destination Wedding Abroad?”

Good question. Just as wedding requirements vary here in the United States, it can be quite chaotic if you try to do the legalities in a foreign country. It’s not ideal for putting yourself through that much stress with your wedding just ahead. So if you have a destination and want to make it as hassle-free as possible, there might be a way.

There are no defined solutions for this, but a popular practice for couples traveling abroad for their weddings is to handle the licensing aspect and hold a small civil ceremony in their state of residence before traveling for the main wedding. Get that license, pay a visit to your city hall, or hire an officiating minister legally empowered to perform such ceremonies. You can have that little ceremony— or secret ceremony if you want to call it that—and sign the necessary documents. The significance of this is that you’re already legally married, even before your destination wedding, according to US laws. The wedding abroad can then be symbolic and largely ceremonial, but only a handful of your guests will know.

If you do this, you’ll be safer knowing that you’ve handled an important aspect of your wedding by signing the paperwork. Also, you will not need to travel to a foreign country with many official documents in your luggage. If you plan to marry in a country where the English language is not spoken in an official capacity, you will have to pay to have them translated, incurring extra costs. Having that small civil ceremony before jetting out of the country can solve issues like these in one swoop.

How much do marriage licenses cost?

Like most marriage regulations in the United States, the cost of obtaining marriage licenses is not unanimous across the board. The fee generally ranges from $10 to $115, varying from one state, county, city, and municipality to another. There are states in the US where the couple is required to take a counseling or premarital education course before they can get a license. However, there are also a few states where the cost of getting marriage licenses is standardized. Click here to find out how much the fee is in your state.

Note that the county can change the fees without notice.

How old should you be to get married?

The popular answer to this question is 18. However, like many other things in the US, the legal marriage age is not absolute across all 50 states. While there are federal marriage regulations, each state or territory sets the legal marriage age.

In Nebraska, the general marriage age is set at 19. In Mississippi, the legal marriage age is 21. However, while most states today maintain the same legal marriage age for both men and women, it wasn’t always so. Until 1971, many American states pegged the age for men at 21, while women aged 18 could marry.

Six US states are completely against underage marriage. They include Minnesota, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Other states will allow the marriage if the underage partner can provide evidence of judicial authorization, parental consent, or in some cases, both. Such marriage may also be permitted if it qualifies as exceptional circumstances. The minimum underage marriage age is 15-17 in some states, but in Massachusetts and California, it is lower.

Nine US states will not allow a person over 21 to marry an underage person.

How long should we wait to marry after getting the marriage license?

Just as there is a validity period, there is also a mandatory waiting period before you can utilize your license. In New York, you cannot use the license until after 24 hours, while the state of Texas requires a minimum of 72 hours.

The license is not proof of marriage and, by itself, is not a legally recognized document to show a marriage was held. A marriage license represents that both parties have passed the marriage requirement test and can go ahead with the wedding.

After getting the marriage license, the couple must have a wedding ceremony with an officiating minister and multiple witnesses, sign the marriage certificate, present it before the local county clerk and get the approved certificate. Only then can the union be legally recognized.

This is probably why a marriage license has a validity period. Once the validity period expires and the wedding is not held, the couple will have to re-apply and eventually hold the wedding.