Verify: Legal Matters

When my parents married in Fairfax County, Va., in 1977, they went first – as was the law – to apply for a marriage license. Due to the commonwealth’s reluctance to update its bureaucracy and an erstwhile attempt to limit procreation to an imaginary intellectual elite, one of the questions they had to answer during the application process was “are you feeble-minded?”

My mother, aghast but amused, turned to her then-fiancé and asked, “If I were feeble-minded, how would I know?” (She decided that she was not, and we remain comfortable in her decision.)

There are still a few legal hurdles to clear before you can say your “I do’s.”

Make sure your officiator is official. According to state law, only a “priest, minister, rabbi, clerk of the Religious Society of Friends, or any clergyman of any religious sect, who is authorized by the authorities of his religion to perform marriages” can preside over a wedding, unless you elect to go secular, in which case a state judge or justice of the peace can marry you. Religious officials must register with the clerk of court in their parishes in order to administer wedding vows.

You can reach the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court by calling 568-5182; maintains a comprehensive list of other parish (and state) court offices.

Make sure you’re eligible for marriage. The age of marital consent in Louisiana is 18, under which age you’ll need both parents to be present when you apply for a marriage license (the state makes exceptions for documented cases of sole custody). If you’re under 16 you and your parents will need a dispensation from a juvenile judge.

Louisiana forbids marriages between persons “related by blood or adoption within the fourth degree collateral” – which means no marriage between first cousins or closer relatives.

Louisiana doesn’t currently allow marriages between same-sex couples.

Wait your turn. State law requires a 72-hour waiting period between the issuance of a marriage license and the ceremony itself. In Orleans Parish a registered clergyman can sign a waiver of the waiting period for out-of-state residents only. Louisiana residents who want to obtain a waiver must get it signed by a district judge or justice of the peace from the parish in which the license was issued.

Do not wait too long – marriage licenses expire 30 days after they are issued. Once it expires, you must purchase a new one.

Get the license itself. You don’t both need to apply in person for a marriage license, but you must present birth certificates from both parties (it’s sort of like running for President, but without all the slogans). If either party cannot produce a birth certificate, you must obtain a waiver from a justice of the peace or district judge.

Applicants born out of the country who haven’t been naturalized must present their original birth certificates; if the certificates aren’t printed in English, they must provide certified English translations on official letterhead. Naturalized foreign-born applicants must present their original citizenship or naturalization papers, and also a valid state ID or driver’s license. Naturalized citizens must obtain waivers from a justice of the peace or district judge. Non-naturalized citizens who cannot meet the requirements for documentation may present valid passports and try to obtain a waiver as well. (In case you’re here on vacation and decide to get hitched. It is, after all, a very romantic city.)

There is a $31.25 fee for a marriage license. Copies are $5 each. The aforementioned waivers each carry a $2.50 fee.

Married before? better ‘fess up. If either applicant has been married before, he or she must present documentation of the dissolution of the previous marriage. If you’re divorced, you must present a certified copy of the divorce judgment; if you have been widowed, you must present an official death certificate naming you as the surviving spouse.

Choose your option package. Louisiana offers the option of covenant marriage, which constitutes a more restrictive marital contract. Couples who enter into covenant marriages cannot obtain no-fault divorce settlements. If you choose to go the covenant route, both applicants must apply for the license in person, attend premarital counseling and sign a declaration of intent in the presence of a notary.

And that’s it! Sign on the dotted line, and enjoy your big day.

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