Although regulations vary from state to state and country to country, there is a basic sequence of events that you must follow in order to make your marriage valid.

The Marriage License

Issued by a county clerk's office or marriage-license bureau in the state where you are getting married, the marriage license is what allows you to be legally married. Well in advance of your wedding day, call the office in the county where you plan to marry, and ask the clerk some basic logistical questions:

-Does the state require that the license be obtained from the county where the ceremony will be held, or can it be from anywhere in the state?

-Do both parties need to be present to apply for the license, or can there be just one or even a proxy? (In Washington, D.C., for example, a relative can obtain your license for you.)

-What are the time constraints of the license? In many states, there is a waiting period between the issuance of the license and the ceremony. Called a cooling-off period, it's meant to discourage hasty unions. In almost all states, a license will expire after a month or two.

-How much is the application fee, and what forms of payment are accepted? Most county clerks' offices accept only one type of payment: Nevada requires cash, while New York accepts nothing but money orders.

The usual requirements for a marriage license are: proof of identity; proof of age; proof that if you've been married before, you are no longer; and a blood test. In most states, you must be at least 18, but some states allow marriage at as young as 16 with parental consent. For identification, a valid driver's license or passport will usually do, but your birth certificate may be necessary. Proving you are no longer married may be as simple as telling the clerk the date and place of your divorce, but in many states, the clerk will also want to see a divorce decree or a death certificate if your previous spouse has passed away.

Blood Test

If your state requires a blood test, your physician or a local clinic can administer one for you -- just tell them you want a standard wedding blood test. Expect it to take a few days before the results are ready for you to take to the clerk. The results are usually considered valid for only a month, so it does not pay to take care of this procedure too far ahead of time (though you should schedule the doctor's appointment well in advance).

Signing the License

Shortly after the ceremony, the couple, the officiant, and the witnesses usually gather to sign the license. A bride should sign with the name she will use legally as a married woman. While you're on your honeymoon, the officiant will forward the license to the county clerk, who will prepare the marriage certificate and mail you an official copy.

A couple joined in marriage often wishes to symbolize the union by sharing a last name. Beyond the tradition of the wife taking the husband's family name, there are alternatives: The bride takes the husband's last name socially but maintains her maiden name professionally. The two last names are linked (with or without a hyphen.) Both last names are combined to create a new last name.

Any of these options is perfectly legal as long as the proper authorities are updated.

If you're planning to change your name, keep in mind that the marriage certificate supersedes all other documents as identification, so be prepared to present it. It's a good idea to request multiple official copies of the certificate from the county clerk in case the name-change application requires that a certificate be mailed in.

Top Three Priorities

Once you've updated your Social Security card, passport, and driver's license, they will serve as simple proof when you go to change your name at the many other places it is on record.

-Social Security Card: Start by contacting the local office of the Social Security Administration; the staff there can mail you a form, which you can return by mail or in person with proper identification. Once you've updated Social Security, the information will automatically be forwarded to the Internal Revenue Service to update your listing there.

-Passport: You will have to request a new passport by mail or stop by a local passport agency (call 900-225-5674 for locations).

-Driver's License: Your driver's license can be updated at a local office of your state's department of motor vehicles.

Further Changes

It may also be necessary to update your bank accounts, credit cards, leases and mortgages, insurance policies, and wills.


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