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How to get married and what it means – a legal perspective

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and love is in the air. In 2022, Valentine’s Day was the most popular day to get engaged, and cupid’s arrows are still flying. With so many people taking this exciting step, couples may have questions about how to get married and what it means. Here are some answers from a legal perspective to common questions about the big day and what comes next:

Who can get married?
In North Dakota and Minnesota, any unmarried person above the age of 18 can marry. In North Dakota, someone between 16 and 18 years old can marry with the consent of a parent or guardian. If one is remarrying, their prior marriage must be dissolved first.

How do I get married?
To marry, a couple must first obtain a marriage license from a county recorder. In North Dakota, the license is valid for 60 days, and in Minnesota, for six months. In North Dakota, a license must be obtained in the county where either of the partners or their parents live, or in the county where the marriage is to take place. In Minnesota, a license can be obtained in any county as long as the marriage takes place within the state.

A couple must fill out an application to receive a marriage license. Both parties must prove they are over the age of 18—16 in North Dakota if consent is provided—usually by birth certificate or ID. If either has been divorced in the past, a certified decree of the divorce must be provided. Applicants must also provide their social security number and designate the surnames each will take.

This is a time for celebration, but be sure you and your partner are sober when you apply. A county recorder can’t issue a marriage license if you’re under the influence.

Obtaining a marriage license is a straight-forward process but requirements may vary by county. Check with a local “license center” for specific procedures.

Is it expensive to get married?
Well, the extravagance of the wedding ceremony is up to you. But there are some costs you can’t avoid. In North Dakota, it will cost $65.00 to obtain a marriage license. In Minnesota, you’ll pay $115.00. Think of this as the “price of love.”

The wedding day – what is really going on?
The formal name for a wedding ceremony is solemnization. Technically speaking, a marriage is not complete unless both parties are present and give formal consent to their union before an authorized officiant and at least two witnesses. After the solemnization, a marriage certificate is issued. The certificate must be signed by the officiant and witnesses, then filed with the original marriage license in the relevant county office within five days of the wedding.

Then, poof, you’re legally married.

You may wonder, who can be the officiant? Does it have to be a priest? A judge?

The law defines a legitimate officiant as “individuals authorized by the rituals of any religious persuasion, as well as ordained ministers of recognized denominations, judges, and recorders.” However, virtually anybody over the age of 18 in North Dakota, and 21 in Minnesota, can be your officiant. Over 20 million people have become ordained for free online through the Universal Life Church.

I got married – now what?
The big day happened. Congrats! Aside from the union of you and your partner, some important things have happened:

If you are legally married according to the laws of your state, your marriage will be recognized in all other states. This means that although states differ on their marriage rules and procedures, a state cannot deny the existence of your marriage. Marriage can provide you with various financial benefits, including:

  • Social security benefits
  • Tax-related benefits
  • Estate planning and gifting benefits
  • Retirement asset-gathering advantages
  • Joint financial accounts
  • Credit score benefits
  • Loan approval success

If the marriage ever goes sour, your marriage affects your rights in the property you own. North Dakota law considers all property, whether acquired before or during the marriage, to be “marital.” So, in a divorce, all property owned by either spouse can be distributed. In Minnesota, property acquired by one spouse before the marriage is considered “non-marital.” Inheritance and gifts by a third party to one spouse during the marriage is also considered non-marital. Non-marital property is not subject to division upon a divorce. However, all property acquired during the marriage by either spouse is considered marital property and subject to division.

I have a family law issue – what should I do?
As we all know, life happens. If you’re considering divorce/separation, expanding your family through adoption/assisted reproduction, or setting up an estate plan, we are here for you. Gjesdahl Law has over 30 years of experience in all things family law to help you through any family law matter you may have.

For now, enjoy this time with your partner. Marriage is one of the happiest times of a person’s life and should be celebrated accordingly. Happy Valentine’s Day to all the
lovers out there!

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Colin Hennessy

Colin joined Gjesdahl Law, P.C. in 2022. He grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota. During his growing up and high school years, he played organized baseball and hockey, then pl…
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