It is alarming how frequently a spouse will consult with a divorce attorney, only to discover that he/she was never legally married in the first place.

Receiving the sacrament of marriage in the eyes of God and the Church does not automatically mean you are “legally married” in the State of New Jersey. If you are not legally married, you may not be protected by the laws governing the divorce process. The validity of your prenuptial agreement may also be called into question.

Below are the steps required to obtain a legal marriage in New Jersey, along with some advice on what to do if you skipped some steps along the way.

A couple must accomplish three major tasks to be considered “married” in New Jersey:

  • Apply for a marriage license at the local county clerk, recorder, or registrar’s office
  • Perform a marriage ceremony with an officiant approved by the State of New Jersey
  • Have the officiant submit the completed marriage license to the county clerk, recorder, or registrar’s office located in the municipality where the ceremony took place

Apply for a Marriage License

To apply for a New Jersey marriage license, a couple must submit a completed marriage license application to their local New Jersey municipality. Do not sign the marriage license- you will have to do that in front of a witness at the county clerk, recorder, or registrar’s office.

The approved marriage license application will be valid throughout the State of New Jersey, meaning the couple does not have to get married in the same place they applied for the marriage license.

If neither applicant is a New Jersey resident, the marriage license application will only be valid in the issuing municipality. Therefore, a nonresident couple must apply for a marriage license only in the municipality where the marriage ceremony will take place.

The NJ Office of Vital Statistics and Registry provides a list of things to bring when applying for a marriage license. It can be accessed here.

Perform a Marriage Ceremony

The marriage ceremony must be performed by an officiant approved by the State of New Jersey. The NJ Office of Vital Statistics and Registry provides a list of approved officiants that can be accessed here.

The ceremony must be performed after the mandatory 72-hour waiting period following the marriage license application, but before the marriage license’s six-month expiration date. If the marriage license expires, you must begin the application process all over again.

Officiant Submits the Completed Marriage License

The officiant is responsible for submitting the completed marriage license to the registrar’s office located in the municipality where the ceremony took place.

You can obtain certified copies of the marriage certificate from the State Bureau of Vital Statistics and Registration or the local county clerk, recorder, or registrar. If they have your marriage certificate on file, congratulations! You are legally married.

What if I Genuinely Believed the Paperwork Was Filed, but it Wasn’t?

If the wedding officiant never filed the completed marriage license with the municipality in which the ceremony was performed, and you were unaware of this error, don’t panic. You may still be considered legally married if you request a “delayed report of marriage.”

According to the NJ Office of Vital Statistics and Registry:

If the marriage occurred within the last seven years and documentary proof is available a late marriage can be recorded. If the marriage took place more than seven years ago a delayed report must be filed by providing a copy of the marriage license application and documentary proof the marriage occurred. If the marriage license application is not available, then a court order must be obtained directing the Office of Vital Statistics and Registry to place the marriage on file as a delayed record.

If the Office of Vital Statistics and Registry continues to dispute the validity of your marriage, you should contact an experienced family lawyer right away.

To verify your marriage is legal in New Jersey, you can submit a request to the State Bureau of Vital Statistics and Registration or the county clerk, recorder, or registrar in the municipality where the marriage took place.

Consult a North Jersey Family Lawyer

If you live in Bergen County or Morris County, the family law experts at Arons & Solomon can help you confirm the validity of your marriage and protect your legal rights. If the status of your marriage is in question, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.