Local Family Law Attorney, Manisha P. Patel, Shares Four Simple Steps to Making it Official
Planning to marry your better half is an exciting time. With preparations in high gear, it is a season that tends to fly by for most couples and their families. While there are many fun aspects of laying the groundwork for your life together, there are also some important legal preparations that must be made by the couple before saying “I do.” Hopefully this list, broken into four simple steps, will be helpful as you and your families approach the big day.
Know the Requirements
There are a few basic prerequisites that must be met before a marriage license can be obtained. Many North Carolina residents are unaware of these laws:
- Both parties must be over the age of 18 (There are certain exceptions to this rule; contact a family law attorney for more detail.)
- Neither party can be married to someone else.
- The couple to be married cannot be closely related by half/whole blood relations.
Obtain Your Marriage License
If you and your significant other meet the above requirements, then you’re off to apply for your official marriage license — a vital step in the process.
- Visit your nearest Register of Deeds office. You can get your marriage license from any county in the state; however, keep in mind that it must be returned to the office where it was originally issued after your ceremony.
- Complete the application. Both you and your spouse-to-be should bring a photo ID (driver’s license, passport, or military ID) and either a W2 or Social Security card.
- If available, it is wise to bring both applicants’ birth certificates to ensure accuracy of full legal names, birthplaces, and parent information.
- Important Note: If under age 21, a certified copy of your birth certificate is required. Should the document be in a language other than English, then you will need to bring the original, as well as a notarized, translated birth certificate.
- If you have been divorced, you only need to provide the month and year the divorce was granted. There is no waiting period from a divorce date to obtain a marriage license in North Carolina.
- Changing your name? Be sure to have this decision finalized beforehand, as you will provide your new middle and last name when applying for the marriage license. When the license is issued, you will sign it with your new married name.
- After completing the application and providing all necessary documentation, you will pay a fee of $60 to obtain your marriage license.
- The marriage license is only valid for 60 days, so plan to get it as close to your wedding date as possible.
Plan Your Ceremony
Choosing an officiant is an important part of planning your ceremony. A number of individuals can legally perform marriage ceremonies in North Carolina, including:
- An ordained minister of any religious denomination
- A minister authorized by a church
- A court magistrate
- A federally or state-recognized Native American nation or tribe
- If you’re “going to the courthouse” to get married, keep in mind that magistrates have specific times when they perform marriage ceremonies. Contact the county office in advance to plan your ceremony time. Magistrates operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and often charge a small fee.
- Regardless of who performs your marriage ceremony, he or she will have to fill out their designated portion of your marriage license and sign it after the “I do’s.”
- Two witnesses are also required to sign the marriage license after the ceremony.
- Remember, once the officiant and witnesses have signed the marriage license, it must be returned to the office that issued it.
- If you plan on having a destination wedding ceremony in a different country, you still need to follow the procedure to have a legal marriage in North Carolina. If you are planning a wedding ceremony overseas, contact a family law attorney for more details to make sure your marriage is legal in the United States.
Finalize the Details
Now that you’re married, it’s important to finalize your name change and other information to ensure smooth sailing for years to come.
- Start by obtaining a personal copy of your marriage certificate. A certified copy can usually be obtained for around $10 at the office where your marriage license was first issued. If you have chosen to change your name, obtaining this certified copy is very important.
- Begin the process of changing your name on important government-issued documents. These include, but may not be limited to:
- Social Security Card
- Driver’s License
- Credit Cards/Bank Cards
- Visit the Social Security Administration first — having their documentation will make the process easier at other offices.
- Wait 24 hours after your trip to the Social Security Administration, then visit the DMV to obtain a new driver’s license with your new name.
- Be sure to have your name listed the exact same way on your new social security card and driver’s license to ensure the remaining name changes go as seamlessly as possible. When these have been updated, you should have no trouble changing your name on other important documents.
I hope that this information has helped you gain some insight into navigating the legal process of getting married in North Carolina, and I wish you all the best!
About the Author
Manisha P. Patel, a Virginia native, now hails from Greensboro, North Carolina where she frequently counsels couples through family law issues as an attorney at Ward Black Law. A fluent Gujarati speaker, Manisha has helped many of her own family members with legal preparations for marriage in North Carolina, and deals with many other aspects of Family law as well, including adoptions, child custody & support, and divorce.