Monday, January 19, 2015

Marriage license vs. marriage certificate

A number of immigration benefits are based on marriage. For example, a person who applies for a green card can include a spouse in that application. Or, the spouse of a non-immigrant status holder often can apply for and receive dependent status. That is, for example, an H-1B person’s spouse can receive H-4 status, while an F-1 person’s spouse can receive F-2 status.

Therefore, when applying for such benefits based on marriage, a person should submit proof of marriage. While marriage laws in the U.S. are generally a matter of state, rather than federal law, so that each state has differences in marriage laws, one principle generally applies. The legal ability of two people to marry usually is controlled by a marriage license. Two people who wish to marry generally will go to a marriage license office in a particular town or county. After fulfilling the requirements for that license, they will receive that license, and it will allow these two people to get married usually within a specified time limit. However, simply holding a marriage license is NOT evidence that these people are married. In fact, a couple can apply for and receive a marriage license, then simply choose not to get married. I am aware of no state that requires the holders of a marriage license to actually get married.

Once these two people are married, the person who conducted the marriage will certify this situation. Then, later, the couple will receive a marriage certificate, and this certificate, NOT the license, documents the couple’s married state.

Therefore, if you are applying for a marriage-based immigration benefit, make sure you supply the correct marriage document. That document is a marriage certificate, NOT a marriage license.
The above information does not constitute legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship. The situation described above is true in many states but might not necessarily be true in your own state.

Calvin Sun, Attorney at Law
610-296-3947, cell 215-983-3723
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