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Marriage Law

The state of California has distinctive marriage laws that require any couple to make important decisions before getting married. One of these decisions is whether to apply for a confidential marriage license or not. You can also choose your relative or friend to conduct your marriage ceremony under the Deputy for a Day program. These laws can be complicated at times, especially for underage marriages or marriages happening under unique conditions. The Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer helps clients understand these laws and how they may relate to an annulment, legal separation or divorce, and gives advice on making the right decisions. We serve the residents of Los Angeles, CA seeking legal counsel for any family matters including marriage.

When Is a Marriage Valid in California?

Family Code 300 defines marriage as a civil contract creating a personal connection between two persons. The contract establishes legal duties both in the course of the marriage and in case of a divorce, legal separation or an annulment.

In California, a marriage becomes valid if both parties voluntarily consented to it. No one should be threatened or forced into getting married if they don’t want to do it. However, mere consent isn’t usually enough to qualify it as marriage. The marriage has to be formalized by obtaining a marriage license as well as any other necessary requirements. The two parties have to be of sound mind, they should be able to give consent legally, and they must understand the type of the union they’re getting into. Any person who is able to understand the duties that come with a marital union is eligible to marry.

The physical inability of consummating a marital union can be a reason to annul the union, especially if the other party did not know of the fact until after the marriage ceremony. However, this physical inability does not bar any person from getting married legally. Generally, the two people getting married must be adults; that is, 18 years and above. But minors too can legally establish a marriage following certain rules.

The state of California also identifies same-sex marriages from the time the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in contrary to the prohibition of the recognition, which was created by Proposition 8.

California Marriage License Laws

Marriage license laws vary in every state. In California, a marriage license is issued by the county clerk. It is not difficult applying for this license. It can be issued to you immediately as long as you qualify. However, the license will expire within 90 days of issue. Thus, you have until this period to formalize your marriage. The license should then be returned to the office of the county clerk who issued it within a period of 10 days into the marriage. At this point, the county recorder registers the license and changes it to a marriage certificate.

You do not need to be a resident of California to be issued with the license in the state and establish a marriage here. Also, note that a marriage license issued in one county is valid and you can use it when you move to another county within the state.

One of the requirements for applying for a marriage license is showing your identification. This could be your green card, driver’s license, state ID or a passport. We also recommend that you show your certificates of birth too. Then, you must fill out legally accepted names of your parents and the parents of your fiancé (é). The maiden names of the mother from both sides and the birthplace of all the parents should be included. Also, you will be charged a fee, which usually ranges between $45 and $85 contingent on the county in which you will be doing the application. Note that there are counties that will only allow cash when paying for this license.

Unlike other states, California does not have a waiting period when it comes to getting married, there is no requirement for a blood test, and it permits marriage between cousins. However, in the event that you had previously been married, you must provide proof of what terminated the marriage. That is if it was divorce, annulment, or death.

Lastly, it is worth noting that in case you lost your marriage certificate and need a new certified copy, or if you just want to have an extra copy of a certified certificate you have to obtain it from the office of the county recorder in the county from which you got married.

A Confidential Marriage License

Marriage laws permit you to obtain a confidential marriage license. However, the license is only valid in the county you applied it in. This means you cannot use the license in another county. A confidential marriage license keeps the marital union from the public, but the union remains legal just like any other marriage.

The main difference between the usual marriage license and a confidential one is that one would need a court order if they want to scrutinize the latter for any given reason while the usual licenses can automatically be scrutinized by the public at any time without the requirement of a court order. The purpose of a confidential marriage license is traced back to early 1878. Its aim was to permit individuals that had been staying together to get married secretly without the exposure to public embarrassment.

If a couple wants to apply for a confidential marriage license, they have to swear that they cohabit. The couple does not have to show proof of them living together; neither is there a stipulated period of time for them to have been living together. In Los Angeles, a confidential marriage license is quite cheaper compared to public marriage licenses. However, couples that choose to have these licenses are charged $14 for them to order a certified copy of the license and marriage certificate. Thus, the cost for a public license and a confidential license evens out.

Since it’s meant to be private, there are no witnesses needed when signing the license. California is the only state that issues confidential marriage licenses in the U.S.

Same-Sex Marriages

California State started giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2008. The licensing was then paused briefly in 2013 as the courts and citizens debated on its rights and legality. However, in 2015, the Supreme Court of the U.S ruled that same-sex partners, which includes LGBT couples ought to enjoy the same marriage and divorce rights as those of heterosexual couples. Thus, same-sex partners in California can today opt to legally solemnize their relationship either through a registered domestic partnership or marriage.

Same-sex marriage has the same rights and benefits as heterosexual marriage both at the state and the federal level. These rights and benefits include;

  • Immigration benefits

  • Social security benefits

  • Employee benefits (death benefits, health insurance, etc.)

  • Tax benefits (property tax, income tax, etc.)

Registered Domestic Partnership (RDP)

A registered domestic partnership is a partnership defined by commitment, mutual caring, and intimacy. It is a special legal recognition that’s specific only to same-sex partners. Like in marriages, RDPs also apply to persons that are 18 years old and above. It requires that the couple fills out a Declaration of Domestic Partnership form.

An RDP provides several (not all) similar rights and duties that marriage does. Here are the rights that RDP couples get to enjoy;

  • Legal status

  • Spousal support in the event of a divorce or partnership dissolution

  • The right to make emergency and medical decisions for inept spouses

Underage Marriages

Given the normal circumstances, one cannot establish a legal marital union in California except if they are adults (18yrs old and above for both spouses). Thus, most of the counties will need certified birth certificate copies of the couple that wants to get married before allowing them to marry. This is a definite requirement if one or both of the partners are underage.

In addition, there has to be a written consent and the attendance of one parent at the least or a legal guardian before an underage couple can get married. Furthermore, the couple has to undergo state-approved marriage counseling, and the court has to issue an order permitting the marriage to take place.

Note that in most cases you are charged a certain fee for the counseling lessons. Also, the court is likely to determine the kind of counseling you undergo. The counseling must not be affiliated with any religious denomination.

Also worth noting is that an approved copy of the written consent from a parent and the court order permitting the marriage of the minors has to be filed with the county clerk.

Unlike in other few states, California has no restriction on the age of getting married. The only requirements needed are the ones mentioned above for anyone below 18 years.

The key reason underage marriage is allowed is to enable minor pregnant mothers to get married and avoid giving birth out of wedlock. Even after these laws were enforced, not so many people get married when they are still underage just to take advantage of it. There are states that may not allow underage marriages, but make exceptions for certain situations.

Parental permission requirements may be relinquished in certain cases. For instance, if the parents of the child are not in the country, or the parents have passed away, and no legal custodian is present in situations where the parent is not available to their child.

Common Law Marriage

California marriage laws do not formally identify common law marriages. Going by the definition of a marriage in the state, common law marriages do not qualify as a manner in which people can get married. For one, you need to have a valid marriage license for you to be lawfully married, which a common law union does not provide. Common law marriages were recognized as ways of getting married back until they were abolished in 1895.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that there are no common law spouses in the state. In the event that you get married under principles of common law in another state or country that recognizes this marriage, the state of California may recognize the marriage as legal if you move into the state. This may work even during divorce, but it can be a complicated situation.

Note that if you got married through common law in another US or foreign state, the marriage is not automatically legal if you move to California. Courts in California will view each case from a different angle, considering its individual merits in those circumstances. They may or may not consent to the laws and regulations of other jurisdictions. If you are in this situation, you may need to hire a skilled family law lawyer who may ensure your type of union (common law) is accepted in California. This is because the success of your case depends so much on the presentation of the case and how it argued in a court of law.

There are previous cases in the court system where common law marriages that took place in other states got recognized in California. However, this is not usually the custom. These marriages are usually not recognized. Thus, you must have a really good attorney on your side who knows how to fight for your rights.

Note that even if the state doesn’t recognize your common law marriage, you still have ways to defend your rights either in the course of the marriage or in case you are divorcing or getting a legal separation.

California Law and Out-of-State Common Law Marriages

Generally, U.S states are bound by the constitution to recognize marriages of each state. However, that does not mean that if you are a resident of California, you can go to another state, get married through common law, then come back to California immediately and expect the marriage to be recognized.

The state will possibly recognize common law marriages of residents from other states who live, visit, do business, hold a bank account or property in California. If you are a resident of California, and you cohabit with a person to whom you aren’t legally married, this scenario changes the spousal support and property division situation. The fact is you could or could not get any spousal support while the division of property is worked out differently.

However, this will not affect child custody, child support or rights to visitation. You do not have to be in a marital union to have a child together. In addition, the rights of the child cannot be canceled simply because the child’s parents aren’t legally married.

Who Can Officiate a Marriage in California?

In addition to obtaining a legal marriage license and certificate, who officiates the marriage ceremony also matters. Not everybody is authorized to marry a couple. There are certain counties where a friend or even a relative can officiate a civil marriage. However, we have different types of adult people who are authorized to officiate a marriage ceremony. They include;

  • A retired or current federal judge

  • A retired or current state (California) assistant commissioner, commissioner, or judge

  • A federal or state elected official

  • An accredited religious leader, for example, a priest, pastor, or rabbi

About Changing Names

According to marriage laws, you do not have to change your last name after marriage unless you want to. Similarly, both you and your spouse can have your names changed if you wish. You can change the last name, the middle name or both. Variations include;

  • Assuming your spouse’s last name (birth-name or the current one if they are different)

  • Merging multiple last names using a hyphen

  • Merging a current and birth last name of your spouse

  • Making the last name of your spouse your middle name

  • Combining your present last and middle names and making them a middle name separated with a hyphen while you have another name as your last name

The name change is decided on a marriage license. It will not be possible to change later the name you want to be changed without going through a legal procedure. However, neither does changing the middle, nor the last name on the marriage license affect the ordinary right to change your name through the normal procedure after a marital union if you wish to do so. If there was an error in filling out the names with the clerk, you can follow a simple but separate process to have it corrected.

Find a Family Law Attorney Experienced in Marriage Law Near Me

Getting married is undoubtedly one of the best moments of your life. Not only is it full of emotions, but it also changes your legal status. If you need help regarding marriage laws, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer. We are experts that address all family law issues, and we will ensure you go through the marriage process legally. Call us at 310-695-5212 to discuss the specifics of your case. We serve all residents of Los Angeles, CA who need help with all family law issues.



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