The ability to marry is seen as one of the main tenets of life in a free society and, in many respects, forms the bedrock of family law issues. Deciding, and then planning, to marry is viewed as a joyous occasion for an overwhelming majority of couples. Those intending to marry typically do not give much thought to the legal process beyond figuring out when and how to apply for a marriage license. This process was, until very recently, not accessible for same sex couples and while it has always been legal for senior citizens to marry, it poses less obvious challenges as the elderly risk losing pension and social security benefits from a deceased spouse if they choose to remarry. These past and present legal obstacles stem, in part, from the fact that Michigan views all marriages as civil arrangements and does not permit couples to solemnize a union through a purely religious or otherwise private ceremony.
A pastor in Detroit is seeking to modify this stance. He filed a lawsuit in Federal Court arguing that the First Amendment protects the right of a citizen to participate in private ceremony solemnizing marriage without government interference. Because the act of getting married creates many legal rights and obligations that extend far beyond the marriage itself, it is worthwhile to explore what constitutes a legal marriage in Michigan. An overview of the law in this area follows below.
As stated above, marriage in Michigan is a civil contract, and until the United States Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage last summer, a marriage in Michigan was only valid if it involved a man and woman. Today, all couples that meet the requirements below may marry in all states.
Any person wishing to marry must be able to consent to the union, which means that someone who is drunk, someone who is under the influence of drugs, or has another type of mental infirmity is not be able to legally agree to marriage.
Every couple must get a marriage license before a legally-recognized marriage ceremony can take place. A marriage licenses is issued by the county clerk’s office, and Michigan residents must apply for a marriage license in the county where they live. However, once a couple has their marriage license, they can get married anywhere in the state. Non-residents are also able to apply for a license for an additional fee. Their applications must be submitted to the Clerk’s Office for the county where their marriage ceremony will take place. If at least one member of the couple is a Michigan resident, that person must be present to pick up the marriage license so he or she can present a valid state ID or driver’s license to receive the marriage license.
There is a three day waiting period once the license is issued before it is valid. After this period expires, the license remains valid for 33 days from the date of the application. In order for the ceremony to be legal, it must be performed by an ordained minister, magistrate, judge, or mayor of a city in Michigan. The marriage ceremony must include at least two witnesses in addition to the person performing the ceremony.
As a preliminary baseline, the legal age for marriage is 18. Nobody under the age of 16 can legally marry. However, if an individual is at least 16 years old but younger than 18, the consent of at least one parent of the underage party is required to validate the marriage. Further, Michigan law prohibits marriages between any two people who are directly related by blood or marriage through first cousins. Finally, bigamy, which is marriage to more than one person at same time, is not permitted.
Making the decision to get married should be a joyous one unburdened by outside worries, but if you have any reason to question your ability to legally marry your partner, consult with a family law attorney to learn what options are available to you. The Clinton Township Law Firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. offers legal representation in a variety of family law matters. Contact them today to schedule your free initial consultation.
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