North Carolina Marriage Laws
On a personal level, the decision to marry is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. And for many persons, the marriage ceremony is embodied with great religious and spiritual meaning. On a more fundamental level, marriage is also a legal contract governed by North Carolina state law. Marriage is governed by NC state law because of the long-held belief that the state has a strong public interest in promoting and protecting marriage and families. In that pursuit, North Carolina marriage laws define not only what constitutes a valid legal marriage, but also the obligations and rights that arise from the marriage contract.
North Carolina Marriage Laws and Minors
North Carolina marriage laws place limits on who can marry based on the person's age and blood relationship to their prospective spouse. A minor between the ages of 16-18 years of age may marry only if he or she receives the written consent of his or her parent having full or joint legal custody, or of the person, agency or institution having legal custody of the minor, or of a person serving as guardian of the minor.
Minors between the ages of 14-16 may lawfully marry if the prospective wife is pregnant, or has given birth, and intends to marry the father of her child. The marriage of minors between the ages of 14-16 must also be authorized by a district court. The court can authorize an underage marriage if the court determines that the minor is capable of assuming the responsibilities of marriage and that the marriage will be in the minor's best interests. If the minor's parents oppose his or her marriage, then it is presumed that it would not be in the minor's best interests to marry.
Marriage laws NC hold that it is unlawful for any person under the age of 14 to marry.
In regard to the blood relationship between the prospective spouses, North Carolina marriage laws forbid the marriage of persons who are in the same family. First cousins may marry, but persons who are closer kin than first cousins may not marry.
Ceremony and North Carolina Marriage Licenses
Marriage can be conducted in either a civil or religious ceremony. A civil ceremony is conducted by a magistrate, who is the only civil officer authorized to perform marriages. A religious ceremony can be performed by a person in any particular religious group who is authorized to solemnize marriages. A marriage, whether conducted in a religious or civil ceremony, must have two witnesses.
Whether you are having a civil or religious ceremony, you must obtain a marriage license from the register of deeds of the county in which the marriage is to take place. The register of deeds issues the license only if the couple meets the legal requirements to marry.
A marriage license is valid for 60 days and the marriage ceremony itself can take place at any time within that 60 days. A marriage license is valid throughout North Carolina as long as it is returned to the register of deeds in the county in which it was first issued. It is a misdemeanor to obtain a marriage license by misrepresentation or false pretenses.
Certain marriages between a man and woman licensed and solemnized according to the law or mode of solemnization of an Indian tribe or nation recognized by our federal or state government will be recognized as a valid legal marriage without a marriage license issued by a register of deeds.
After the marriage, the person performing the marriage is required to give the newlyweds a marriage certificate. The marriage certificate contains the spouses names and addresses, the date of their marriage, the county that issued their marriage license and the date of the license was issued. The marriage certificate must be signed by the person performing the marriage and returned to the register of deeds in the same county that the marriage license was issued. The marriage certificate is the official record of the couple's marriage ceremony.
North Carolina Marriage Laws and Common Law Marriages
Common law marriages or marriages by consent that arise in our state are not recognized by North Carolina marriage law as valid legal marriages. There is one instance where North Carolina will recognize a common law marriage: if a couple entered into a common law marriage in another state which does recognize common law marriages, and if that couple latter moves to North Carolina, our state will recognize their common law marriage as a valid legal marriage.
North Carolina Marriage Laws and Same-Sex Marriage
Same-sex marriage in North Carolina has been legal since October 10, 2014, when a federal judge ruled that the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. North Carolina had previously denied marriage rights to same-sex couples by statute since 1996. A state constitutional amendment that was approved in 2012 reinforced that by defining marriage between a man and a woman as the only valid "domestic legal union" in the state and denying recognition to any similar legal status, such as civil unions.
North Carolina Property and Name Change Laws in Marriage
Per NC marriages laws, the new husband and wife automatically assume certain legal rights and obligations arising from their marriage contract. For example, upon marriage each spouse now has the right to share in the estate of the other. And if children are born to the marriage, they too become eligible to share in their parents' estates. This automatic share in a spouse's or parent's estate can be modified or offset under the terms of a will. Upon marriage, each spouse also becomes obligated to support the other spouse.
It is customary for the bride to change her last name to her husband's upon their marriage -- customary, but not obligatory. NC marriage laws hold that a bride can retain her maiden name with no need for any special legal proceedings. If after marriage, the wife wants to resume her maiden name, she must petition the Superior Court in the county where she resides for a legal change of name. In divorce, a wife can petition the divorce court to allow her to resume her maiden name. Such a petition is always granted and becomes part of the divorce decree. If a woman does not resume her maiden name at the time of her divorce, but at some later time decides she would like to resume her maiden name, then she must petition Superior Court for a legal change of name. You can contact the Clerk of Superior Court in your county for the necessary forms.
Upon marriage, a couple may also assume a combined or hyphenated name that includes both their last names. The bride may do this at the time of her marriage without any special legal proceedings. The husband must, however, petition the court for a legal name change to assume a combined or hyphenated name.
If you or your spouse do decide to change your name upon marriage, you are advised to update all your official records. Government agencies such as the Social Security Administration or the Department of Motor Vehicles should be informed of your name change. Private institutions such as your bank and insurance company should also be informed.
A child born to a couple who are not married is born out-of-wedlock and deemed illegitimate under North Carolina state law. If the parents of the out-of-wedlock child later marry, the child becomes legitimate. A new birth certificate for the child will be issued by the Registrar of Vital Statistics.