Are you getting married in Rhode Island? Then you'll need to apply for a Rhode Island marriage license. The state has 39 cities and towns, each of which has a clerk's office. That's where you'll need to apply, together, in person.
The licensing official who will handle your application is, fittingly named, the city or town clerk. Sometimes a deputy clerk will assist.
City of Providence exception
In the City of Providence, the registrar of births, deaths, and marriages is responsible for issuing marriage licenses, not the city clerk.
If either of you live in Rhode Island, apply in either's city or town of residence; afterward, you can get married anywhere in the state.
If neither of you are residents of Rhode Island, you must apply in the city where your marriage ceremony will take place.
The clerk's office sells two separate marriage products:
- Marriage licenses
- Marriage certificates
In Rhode Island, a marriage license costs precisely $24 no matter which city or town clerk's office you apply in.
License fee breakdown
Surprisingly, the clerk's office only keeps two dollars out of every purchase. The city/town government keeps six. The remaining sixteen goes to the state's office of the general treasurer, who deposits half into the family and children trust fund.
The following table and doughnut chart illustrates the allocation:
|9%||$2||Retained by the clerk's office|
|25%||$6||Retained by the city or town government|
|33%||$8||Remitted to the general treasurer|
|33%||$8||Family and children trust fund|
Marriage certificate copy fee
Your marriage license will not come with a complimentary certified copy of your marriage certificate. You can order this separately for $20. Additional copies are $15.
Your certificate will be mailed to you after your marriage is solemnized and license returned to the clerk for recording.
Getting a certified copy of your certificate is optional, but most couples will want to have this in their records.
The marriage license application is comprised of two pages. The left side is for you to fill out, the opposite for your prospective spouse. The form is designed by the state department of health, so it's standardized across all cities and towns.
It's quite a sprawling document, so consider picking up a blank application to be filled out in advance.
Much of the form is what you'd expect to see on a marriage application, but we'll cover a few fields to better prepare you for application day.
You'll be asked for your full legal name and birth name. You won't be asked to supply a new married name to change to after marriage. Only your current name will be reflected on your license and subsequent marriage certificate.
You'll be asked your gender. This is self-explanatory, but it provides an opportunity to point out how the state has designed the application to be gender-neutral.
Although the gender question choices are binary (male or female), you can choose whichever you identify with.
Also, at the very top of the form you'll select a party identification of bride, groom, or spouse. Choose whichever designation you're comfortable with.
However you mark these two questions will not impact how your application is processed. This information, along with the entire form, is sent to the state's department of vital statistics for aggregation.
Address and residence
You'll be asked for your mailing address and place of residence. These may seem redundant, but the latter is what's more important. Your place of residence (city and state or country) is what determines which residency bucket you fall in.
How you answer this question determines if you're even eligible to apply within the chosen city or town.
Your phone number will be used to contact you if a problem arises after you receive your license. For instance, if there's a discrepancy discovered with your application or issued license, or problem recording your returned license, the city or town clerk can get in touch with you faster than the postal mail route.
You'll be asked when and where you were born, and your age. Although it may seem redundant to separately ask your date of birth and age, it helps streamline the application process by quickly identifying if a legal age restriction applies to you.
If you have a legal guardian, you'll need their consent to marry, regardless of age. Answering "yes" to this question without your guardian in tow will halt the application process until can fetch them.
You'll be asked to provide your parents' birth names (not current names) and places of birth. For minors, the information can assist potential family court proceedings. For non-minors, and really everybody, it helps the state's vital statistics office build a strong genealogy database.
Social security number
Social security numbers are collected to enforce delinquent child support payments. This is the only reason. These checks are performed at a later date.
The clerk passes your number over to the state registrar of vital statistics who in turn passes it over to the office of child support services for enforcement.
Social security numbers aren't visible on public records and are kept confidential. It will only be disclosed to the child support enforcement agency.
Signature certifies the application
You will be administered an oath by the clerk where you must assert or swear that your side of the application is true. Your signature certifies the truthfulness of your application. Falsifying your application can lead to jail time, fines, and invalidation of your marriage.
If you pick up an application in advance so that you can fill it out at home, don't sign or date it until you're back in the clerk's office. If the clerk doesn't witnesses your signature, you may be required to fill out a new application and copy everything over.
You'll be asked to provide contact details (name, address, and phone number) for the person who will solemnize your marriage, the ceremony location, and witnesses (names and phone numbers).
If there's ever a discrepancy or omission in the recording of your licenses, the clerk can make contact with any or all of them for assistance resolving the problem.
The ceremony-related section is entirely optional. Answer, or don't answer, it's up to you. It's provided to help the clerk investigate and resolve any problems that might crop up without having to unnecessarily involve you.
There are no waiting periods. You'll receive your license the same day you apply for it. You can marry any time after receiving it.
Your license will remain valid for three months after it's been issued. If your license expires before you get married, you must return it to the issuing clerk for cancelation.
Identification is used to verify your age. Bring an original or certified copy of your birth certificate. If you don't have one, bring federal or state-issued photo ID that contains your date of birth. If you're a foreigner lacking any of these documents, bring your passport or alien card.
You must obtain consent to marry if you meet either of the following two conditions:
- You're 16 or 17 years old.
- You're the ward of a legal guardian, regardless of your age.
If you're 15 years old, or younger, you must obtain the family court's permission to marry.
Who grants consent?
If you need consent to marry, your guardian or one of your parents must accompany you to the making of the application. They'll have to submit a "minor's permit to marry" form in the presence of the clerk.
Family court proceedings
If you're 15 years old or younger, you'll need permission from the Rhode Island Family Court to marry. It's a multistep process that begins at the clerk's office.
Submit your application
Go the clerk's office and submit an application, as you normally would.
Clerk notifies court
Once the clerk is made aware that you're less than 16 years old, they'll immediately transmit your information to the court.
Upon receipt of the clerk's transmission, the court will formally request the Department of Human Services conduct an investigation into the advisability of you marrying and to submit a written report of their findings within 15 days.
Upon receipt of the report, the court will schedule a hearing in chambers to determine if it's sensible for you to marry. The court will summon anyone it deems necessary to shape their conclusion. The court will also exert the role of guardian over you during proceedings.
The court's written decision will be forwarded to the clerk, containing instructions to approve or deny your request for a marriage license. If approved, return to the clerk to pick up your license.
Premarital blood tests are not required to get a marriage license, nor are physical exams.
Fetal alcohol syndrome
When you apply, the clerk is required by law to provide you information about the cause and effect of fetal alcohol syndrome.
When applying, you'll have to provide details of previous marital-type relationships, including marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. This includes the total number and how and when the last one ended.
The "how" would be something like divorce, annulment, dissolution, abandonment, or spouse's death. The "when" would be the month, day, and year the divorce (or equivalent) was finalized or the date your spouse died.
State law doesn't say you're required to provide proof, such as a divorce decree or death certificate, but virtually every clerk's office wants to see proof, so bring it: original or certified copies only.
If you don't have it and can't get it, you might have a problem on your hands. You'll have to contact the clerk to explain, cajole, or negotiate your way out of this lack of proof.
You cannot marry the following relatives:
- First cousin
If any such marriage were established, it would be considered incestuous, null, and void. However, such normally forbidden marriages are allowed to take place among Jewish people, by whichever degree of intermarriage their religion allows.
Living husband or wife
If you have a living husband or wife and the marriage hasn't been dissolved, you cannot marry until you are divorced; otherwise, the subsequent marriage would constitute an act of bigamy.
Any such marriage is regarded as illegitimate by the state and likely to be voided, unless the family court intercedes and declares it valid. Such a declaration would require the previous marriage be dissolved and the latter marriage considered lawful in all other respects.
If you have a living partner who's not your husband or wife, but the relationship is considered similar to marriage in terms of legality, rights, and benefits, you cannot marry until that relationship has been legally dissolved. A marriage that takes place, prior to severing such a previous relationship would be considered void.
You cannot marry a person deemed mentally incompetent. Mental capacity must be restored before marriage could take place, typically through a competency hearing and psychiatric evaluation. Any such marriage would be voided by the state.
Who may solemnize?
The act of presiding over your marriage is referred to as solemnization. Anyone authorized to solemnize marriages can perform this duty in any city or town within the state. State law identifies the types of persons authorized to fill this role, as follows:
Any ordained or licensed minister, clergyman, or elder who's in good standing may solemnize.
Judges and justices
You can be married by any current or former judge, justice, or magistrate of the district court, family court, municipal court, probate court, superior court, supreme court, or traffic tribunal.
Non-retired, U.S. Constitution Article III appointed federal judges can solemnize, including appointees of the supreme court, court of appeals, court of international trade, and district court.
Non-retired federal bankruptcy and magistrate judges are the last types of judges who may solemnize your marriage.
You can be married by any current or former clerk, administrative clerk, or general chief clerk of the district court, family court, superior court, supreme court, or traffic tribunal.
General assembly members
You can be married by any current or former secretary of the senate. You can also be married by any current or former elected clerk of the general assembly; although, former general assembly clerks must have retired after July 1, 2007.
Interestingly, the wardens (first and second) of the Town of New Shoreham may perform solemnizations. This is a special carve out made for New Shoreham: the smallest populated municipality in Rhode Island.
You must have two witnesses attend your marriage ceremony. Witnesses must be adults, at or over the age of 18. You, your prospective spouse, or solemnizing official cannot serve as your own witness.
Before your marriage ceremony can begin, you, your prospective spouse, and two witnesses must be present. The solemnizing official must sign the certificate attached to the license before commencement.
You know the movie cliché where the priest, minister, or equivalent official calls on anyone in attendance who objects to the marriage to "speak now or forever hold you peace?" Well, that's a real, legal requirement that must be expressed during your solemnization. If all goes well, no one will interject and ruin your day.
If an objection does take place, the solemnizing official is required to hear it out and determine if the protestation presents a legitimate impediment to your marriage proceeding. If such an impediment is not removed, your marriage cannot go on.
Endorsing the license
Once the marriage ceremony has concluded, the solemnizing official must endorse the certificate portion of license. This certifies that they oversaw the marriage between you and your spouse, on this day and time, at this place, before these witnesses.
The completed license must be returned to the clerk who issued it within 72 hours after the ceremony so that it may be recorded.
If you're marriage is solemnized by someone who had no authority to do so, it wouldn't necessarily invalid your marriage. As long as you or your spouse believed the marriage was lawfully solemnized at the time, your marriage will not be voided.
No one is exempt from punishment for violating Rhode Island's marriage laws. You, the solemnizing official, and even the clerk can face jail time and a hefty fine for committing various forms of misconduct. Let's cover a few cases.
When you fill out the application, your signature certifies that everything you specified is true. If it's found out that you falsified your application or identification credentials, you will be hit with a harsh penalty that includes one year of imprisonment and/or a $1,000 fine.
If your marriage is solemnized without a license available, then you've got a problem of inconvenience and your solemnizing official has a legal problem. If there's no license, there's nothing that can be returned to the clerk confirming your marriage exists.
For you, there's no recourse or recovery from this, other than getting a real license and marrying, for real. Whoever solemnized, sans license, can be imprisoned for up to six months and fined up to $1,000.
If someone interrupts your ceremony with an objection, the solemnizing official must take them seriously. If the marriage proceeds without the impediment being dealt with, the solemnizing official would have presided over a potentially voidable marriage while opening themselves up to six months of jail time and a fine of up to $1,000.
If you get married when you're already married, you've committed bigamy. That'll certainly put you in legal hot water, but your solemnizing official will only escape reprimand if they were ignorant to your scheme; however, if the person who solemnizes your marriage knew it to be bigamous, they'd guarantee themselves up to six months imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $1,000.
Dereliction of duty
Whoever solemnizes your marriage has responsibilities beyond showing up, reciting a script, and endorsing your license. They have to make sure the state is aware of what has transpired. The only way to do that is to make sure your license is properly filled out and returned to the issuing clerk within the timeframe allotted by law.
Failure to return your endorsed license results in a non-recorded and non-existent marriage (as far as the state is concerned). This is not an insurmountable problem. You, your spouse, and the witnesses in attendance can provide testimony to the clerk that your marriage really happened; it can be recorded after the fact. This doesn't leave the person who solemnized off the hook; they'll be presented with a fine not to exceed $100.
If you're married by someone not legally authorized to solemnize, it probably wouldn't nullify your marriage, but the person who fake solemnized will be hit with a fine of $500. So, if you have a friend who wants to play minister-for-a-day and preside over your marriage, it has the potential of whacking you and definitely walloping them. They cannot claim ignorance of the law to avoid getting fined.
Upon receipt of the endorsed and returned marriage license, the clerk must archive it within office records. Certified copies of your marriage record can be ordered once it's been recorded.
If you ordered a copy of your certificate when you originally applied for your license, yet haven't received it two weeks after your marriage ceremony has transpired, you should contact the clerk's office to find out if it was returned and/or recorded.
When applying for a marriage license, you won't have an opportunity to specify a new name after marriage. Following your marriage ceremony, the certificate portion of the license won't have a space for this either. This isn't important.
A certified copy of your marriage certificate is sufficient for changing your name, even though it will only contain your current legal name. Proof of marriage is what counts when you visit the Social Security Administration, DMV, or other federal and non-federal institutions.
Rhode Island doesn't allow proxy marriages. A proxy marriage is when one or both of you employ a stand-in to serve as an alternate for the missing person. This is often used for incarcerated persons or deployed members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Rhode Island neither permits nor recognizes common-law marriages.
Out-of-state legal union
If you're a resident of Rhode Island, or simply within its jurisdiction, who has a legal union (e.g., civil union, domestic partnership) that's nearly equivalent to marriage in terms of rights and benefits, it would be recognized in this state and provided the full array of rights and benefits any typical marriage would enjoy.
Conclusion and the final step
That's it. Now you know what it takes to get married in Rhode Island. Your next step is to choose the city or town to apply in. Good luck.