What is eloping?
Merriam-Webster defines eloping as: "to run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent." However, it also 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?
Yes. Marriage licenses are required in every state. 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 a valid photo 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 before and after receiving your marriage license.
You may have heard that you need a blood test to get married. This is mostly a 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 preparation. For example, Georgia has a program where fees associated with your marriage license can be reduced so long as you show proof of completion of an approved premarital counseling course.
Generally, fees for marriage licenses are around $100 to $200. The fee may cover both the license and a copy after the license is signed and filed. But buyer beware: as cheap as getting married may be, divorce is still very expensive and filing fees for divorces are as high as $435 in California, for example.
Will you need an officiant if you elope?
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 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?
Witness requirements vary state to state. Some states require that you have at least one witness present at your ceremony. Other states require at least two witnesses. Some states, like Florida, do not require any witnesses. Marriage licenses often have instructions printed on them, or have instructions attached separately that explain what is required, or who is required to sign, and where. For example, many have separate signature blocks for each witness that is required. Nevertheless, it is best to check with your local county to be sure about the witness requirement.
Why do so many couples elope in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas, Nevada is well-known as a place where many couples elope. The law there is what makes this possible as there is no waiting period between filing for a license and receiving it. Couples can even pre-register online and pick up their license by showing up to the Marriage License Bureau with their identifications. At the Marriage License Bureau near the strip in Las Vegas, marriage licenses can be issued everyday from 8am to midnight.
In other states, you may have to read information about marriage, make a sworn affidavit, and wait for the paperwork to be processed before receiving your 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 reading about marriage before issuing the license, family lawyers often recommend that everyone consider a Prenuptial Agreement. Doing so makes sure couples at least understand what their state's property laws say will happen if they divorce. Elopement and prenups are a bit antithetical as California and other states require that each person be represented by a separate independent attorney, disclose fully their finances including both assets and debts, and the final agreement must be in the hands of each person at least seven days prior to signing the document. While prenup requirements can put a damper on honeymoon planning, family lawyers often remind couples that it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Enjoy the summer wedding season and plan accordingly!
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.