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Marriage Requirements Basics: Consent, Age, and Capacity

Perhaps you think the legal requirements for marriage are confusing and overwhelming. With so much that goes into planning a wedding these days: selecting the perfect dress, choosing a carefully coordinated menu of classic dishes culminating with a show-stopping wedding cake, and finding just the right venue -- navigating through the legal requirements might be low on your to-do list.

Certain types of marriages are generally prohibited, such as unions between blood relatives. In most states, they can't be closer than third cousins. However, many states allow first cousins to marry if they're of an elderly age and no longer able to conceive.

The reality is that once you know what's required in your state, the steps are simple, leaving you more time to concentrate on the more enjoyable parts of getting married. Although laws differ by state, this article covers general marriage requirements.

Marriage Requirements: Consent

Before a marital union is recognized by a state, there must be consent or agreement between the parties of the union to be married. For consent to exist, both parties must agree to the marriage and there must be no mistake as to the nature of the union; no force must be used upon either party to enter into the union.

Once consent is determined to exist, the laws of the individual states determine the status of the couple as spouses (as long as they've satisfied the state's marriage license requirements).

Marriage Requirements: Age

Age is an additional aspect of consent to marry. All states set the age which must be reached by both parties to the marriage before they're able to legally agree to become spouses without parental permission. For all but two states, this "age of consent" is 18 (in Mississippi the age is 17 for females and 15 for males, while in Nebraska the age is 17).

The states vary in determining the minimum age at which a couple can marry with parental consent. For the majority of states this age is 16, though in a very few states (including Kansas) the age is as low as 14.

Marriage Requirements: Capacity

Capacity generally refers to the mental ability of one or both of the parties to the marriage to agree to become spouses. Both parties must be of "sound" mind and capable of agreeing to the marriage. Not all forms of mental illness and insanity serve to render someone incapable of entering into a marriage.

A common test of capacity is the ability of individuals to understand the nature of marriage and what their responsibilities are to their partners once they enter into the union, such as financial obligations. Physical incapacity -- and in particular the physical inability to have sexual intercourse -- does not in and of itself render one incapable of marrying, and does not on its face void a marriage that has already occurred.

Questions About Marriage Requirements? A Family Lawyer Can Help

If you and your partner are considering getting married, it may help to speak with an experienced family law attorney. An attorney will ensure that all of the legal requirements of marriage are met before you walk down the aisle and can also address other legal questions and issues you may face down the road. Find an experienced family law attorney near you today.

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