Make Sure It's Legal
Regardless of where you're getting married or what kind of ceremony you're planning, you need to obtain a marriage license, which is the government's way of ensuring that only people who are legally eligible for marriage (basically, residents of this country who are of legal age and not currently married) actually end up getting married.
How Hard Could It Be?
Generally speaking, it's not that hard to obtain a marriage license. It's not like you have to pass some sort of Marriage I.Q. or compatibility test before you're allowed to become husband and wife. But you do need to know when and where to apply for the license and what to bring with you to prove that you are, indeed, who you claim to be.
There isn't one specific government office that issues marriage licenses. In some towns, the town clerk may perform this duty; in another city, you may need to visit city hall, the county clerk, or the marriage license bureau.
When you apply for the license, you'll need to bring proof of your United States citizenship (a birth certificate will do, if you were born here; naturalization papers will suffice for immigrants) and a valid picture ID, like your driver's license. Almost every state charges a fee (ranging from about $30 to $100, depending on the state), and a few states still require that you bring along the results of a blood test (a screening tool for sexually transmitted diseases).
In most states, marriage licenses have a limited shelf life — that is, they're only valid for a certain period of time before they expire. If you don't marry within that time, you'll have to reapply. Nevada is one state that issues marriage licenses that are valid from the application date until the end of time, which seems fitting for a state that hosts so many weddings.
Who knew there was so much to know about marriage licenses? Well, there's even more! In addition to proving your identity and residency, you'll also have to prove that you aren't currently married. If you have been married before, make sure you bring a copy of your divorce papers when you apply for your new marriage license. If your first marriage ended in the death of your spouse, bring a copy of the death certificate.
You'll also need to know whether the destination you've chosen for your wedding has a waiting period between the time you apply for the license and the time you're permitted to get married. It's about an even split here in the United States: Around half of the states have a waiting period, and the other half don't. Wisconsin's waiting period is the longest at six days; the District of Columbia is a close second with a five-day wait.
If you're headed overseas for the big ceremony, check with the U.S. embassy or office of tourism in that country regarding the requirements for marriage of non-citizens. Most countries permit foreigners to wed while visiting there, but some don't. You probably wouldn't plan an entire wedding without first knowing whether it's a legal possibility in the location you've chosen, but to be on the safe side, check out the residency requirements before you get your heart set on any site in particular. The United Kingdom, for example, has recently revamped its list of requirements for the union of non-nationals, making it a much more difficult process than it has been in the past. This, in turn, has many American couples flocking to Italy, where the rules are much more relaxed.
Since many destination weddings take place in tropical locations, let's take a look at the marriage requirements for a few of the hottest spots:
Fiji. You can get a marriage license upon your arrival. Marriages are not performed on Sunday. You'll need your birth certificates and, if applicable, divorce papers. Aruba. Couples must petition the Office of Civil Registry of Aruba a week or two prior to the ceremony. Copies of your birth certificates, divorce papers, passports, the names of two witnesses, and copies of theirpassports must be sent along with the petition. Bahamas. There is a one-day waiting period after you get your license. You'll need to provide your passports, driver's licenses, divorce or death certificates, and a declaration swearing that both of you are unmarried. British Virgin Islands. You can apply for a license upon your arrival; there's a three-day waiting period. You'll need your passports, divorce or death certificates, and two witnesses. Jamaica. Apply for the license when you arrive; there's a twenty-four hour waiting period. You'll need your driver's licenses, birth certificates, and divorce or death certificates.
Obviously, there are many, many more islands than those mentioned here, and not every island is so easy to work with. Bermuda, for example, has fairly stringent requirements, including publishing a notice of your intent to marry in your local paper.
Do your research well — and think about hiring a wedding consultant to help you with the paperwork, because it would be a shame to arrive at your location and realize that you haven't met the legal requirements for marriage!