Top three legal tips for destination weddings

Destination weddings

June remains the most popular month for weddings, and a surprising number of those weddings — one in four — will be destination weddings where the nuptials take place at least 100 miles from the bride’s home. That’s according to a study from and

It’s no surprise that destination weddings are gaining in popularity. Another study, Expedia's 2014 American Altar Report revealed three of every four Americans find destination weddings to be less stressful while four out of five find them to be more fun. Additionally, the average cost of a wedding in the United States is $30,000, compared with about $24,000 for a destination wedding.

While destination weddings can be a lot simpler and less expensive, they do require a little extra homework to ensure the marriage is legal. But as long as you follow the laws in the state or country where you plan to wed, your marriage will be valid. Following are the three most important steps to keeping it legal.

First, check with local authorities at your destination. Check in with the state or the United States embassy where you plan to wed. Laws vary a fair amount from state to state and country to country, with different waiting periods, filing fees and more. Be sure to check directly with the appropriate office rather than rely on website information which isn’t always up to date.

Second, mind residency and other requirements. In order to be married in another country, you will need a marriage license from that location (that’s true for marrying in other states, too), and licenses sometimes carry residency requirements. To be married in Turks and Caicos, for example, you must be there for at least 72 hours, which must include three full business days, prior to the wedding. In France, the requirement is 40 days.

Immunization records and blood and other medical tests are also common and vary by country. Mexico, for example, requires chest X-rays. Don’t forget that it can take a few days to get the results needed to complete paperwork for the marriage license.

Age requirements also vary, even within the U.S. Most states allow people over age 18 to marry without parental consent and teens 16 and up to marry if they have parental consent. But if you’re under age 21 and marrying in Mississippi or Bermuda, you’ll need the notarized written consent of both parents.

Third, prepare necessary paperwork. Most destinations outside the U.S. will require a passport in addition to a birth certificate, and it can take several weeks to get or renew a passport. Also, if you’ve been married before, divorce decrees and/or death certificates may also be required. Some countries further require these and other documents be translated into its native language and authenticated. Again, you can learn about these requirements from the U.S. embassy or marriage registrar at your intended destination.

Many couples don’t mind the extra steps, but some do. If you’re among the latter but have your heart set on a destination wedding, you may want to consider taking care of the legal arrangement where you currently reside and hosting the celebration at the destination.

Whatever you choose, even if it’s to wed at home, remember the real reason for the event. It’s about marrying the one you love. That’s the cake. The celebration is really just the frosting.

Top three legal tips for destination weddingsBy Brian Weber, Partner, Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For a La Crosse family lawyer, call him at 608-782-1780.


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