How to get a marriage license

Marriage laws vary throughout the country. To learn about local regulations, call or write to the office of your city or town clerk or, in large cities, to the Marriage License Bureau.

Most states require you and your partner to have a blood test within 30 days before you apply for a marriage license. In some states you may need a complete physical examination. Your family doctor can perform the test and the examination. Tell the doctor you intend to be married and ask him or her to fill out all necessary forms. Because you may have to wait several days for lab test results, you should visit the doctor at least a week before you plan to apply for your license.

Some states require a waiting period of a day or more between the issuance of a marriage license and the marriage ceremony. You and your partner will probably have to apply for the license in person. Bring with you all medical documents, identification, and proof of age-a birth or a baptismal certificate, a valid driver’s license or passport, a visa or alien registration card, military identification or a draft card-and proof that any former marriages have been terminated by death, divorce, or annulment. All documents should be originals. Many authorities will not accept photocopies, altered papers, incomplete or unsigned forms, or documents that are rubber-stamped rather than signed by hand.

If you are below the age of consent (18 years in most states), your parents may have to accompany you. They should bring identification and proof that they are your parents.

Upon payment of a fee, your license will be issued. Ordinarily it will be valid only for a certain period and only in the state in which it was issued. Civil and religious ceremonies A marriage can be performed by a religious leader, such as your priest, rabbi, or minister, or by a civil authority, such as a judge or a justice of the peace. If you choose a religious ceremony, talk with your clergyman well ahead of time about the time, place, and nature of the wedding. Make sure you understand any special requirements of the religion in which you will be married.

A civil ceremony can be performed in a judge’s chambers or at the license bureau without extensive preparations. If you plan to have your civil ceremony at home or at a catering hall, discuss arrangements well ahead of time with the judge.

You and your partner may choose to sign a marriage contract. The primary purpose of such a document is to protect financial assets of both partners in the event of divorce or death. The contract should be drawn up by an attorney and must be negotiated with the full consent of both partners. Homemade contracts and contracts signed under duress are unlikely to hold up if contested in court.