Updated October 2017
Feeling romantic and spontaneous after the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage? Itching to tie the knot with someone special? You are not alone. The Supreme Court of the United States recently proclaimed in Obergefell v. Hodges that,
[m]arriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm…. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.
Let’s start from the beginning:
What is eloping?
Merriam-Webster defines eloping as: “to run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent”- But it has also meant—and still means—”to escape.”
The reasons to elope may be plenty, but don’t move too fast. Here are five important legal issues to keep in mind if you are considering eloping with your sweetie to the nearest chapel:
Do you need a marriage license to elope?
When deciding where to elope, keep in mind that each state has different standards for obtaining a marriage license. For example, in California, both parties must appear in person and bring valid picture identification to the County Clerk’s Office to apply for a marriage license.
In some states, like Louisiana, there may even be a waiting period of up to three days before and after receiving your marriage license.
You may have heard that you need a blood test to get married. This is mostly myth. However, until recently, some states, like Mississippi, required a blood test to obtain a marriage license. However, today you can get married in most states that used to require a blood test by simply waiving the blood test requirement through informed consent.
How much does it cost to elope?
The cost of a marriage license varies state by state and can be reduced by your own level of your preparation.
For example, Georgia has a program where all fees associated with your marriage license can be waived so long as you show proof of completion of an approved premarital counseling course. Generally, fees for marriage licenses are around $100 to $200 with the fee for the license and any subsequent copies. But buyer beware: as cheap as getting married may be, divorce is still very expensive and filing fees for divorces are rising to $450 in some counties in California.
Will you need an officiant if you elope to get married?
The person who marries you is called the marriage officiant, and this person can be a clergyperson or otherwise authorized individual. Remember how Joey married Monica and Chandler in Friends? Depending on your state, many different types of individuals are authorized to perform weddings, including ship captains and Medicine Men or even shamans.
In California, anyone who officiates a wedding is required by law to complete the marriage license and return it to the County Recorder’s office within 10 days of the event for registration. Each state will have its own requirements so be sure to check with your state and county on who can officiate your wedding.
Do you need a witness to get married?
Nope, some states require that you must also have at least one witness present at your ceremony. These requirements are varied as other states required at least two witnesses, and some states, like Florida, do not require any witnesses. It is best to check with your local county to be sure about the witness requirement.
Make sure you do your homework.
Depending on your state you may have to read information about marriage and make a sworn affidavit before obtaining a marriage license. For example, in Florida, all newlyweds must certify that they have read the Family Law Handbook created by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.
While many states do not require this step, as a family lawyer, I recommend that everyone consider a prenuptial agreement or at least understand what your state’s property laws entail upon dissolution before taking the plunge. Elopement and prenups are a bit antithetical as California requires that (1) Both parties must be represented by separate independent attorneys, (2) disclose fully their finances (including any assets and debts), and (3) the final form of the agreement must be in the hands of each party at least seven days prior to signing the document. The prenup requirements can put a damper in the honeymoon planning, but as a family lawyer, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Enjoy the summer wedding season and plan accordingly!