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In North Carolina, marriage is a civil contract between a wife and husband. Unlike most contracts, the state is considered a party to every marriage contract. Marriage is also a legal status that comes with many rights and obligations between spouses, such as the obligation of each spouse to support the other. A marriage performed in North Carolina must be a ceremonial marriage. A ceremonial marriage is one that meets the statutory rules and is solemnized before a religious or civil official. A common law marriage can not be created in North Carolina.
There are several requirements for a valid marriage in North Carolina. Where a marriage turns out to lack one or more of these, the marriage can be annulled. The requirements are:
- Consent to Marry – Each spouse must freely consent to marry the other.
- Sound Mind – Each spouse must be able to understand the special nature of marriage and the duties that come with marriage.
- Minimum Age – In general, any person 18 years of age or older may marry. Minors who have been emancipated may also marry. A person between ages 16 and 18 may marry with the written consent of a parent having full or joint legal custody or the written consent of the person, agency, or institution that has legal custody or is serving as guardian of the underage party. The consent must be signed before a notary or the Regiser of Deeds. A female between the ages 14 and 16 who is pregnant or has given birth may marry the putative father, subject to some restrictions and in some cases subject to judicial approval. A male between the ages of 14 and 16 who is the putative father of a child, born or unborn, may marry the mother, subject to the same restrictions. No person younger than 14 years of age may marry in North Carolina.
- Single Status – Each party to the marriage must be unmarried.
- Related Parties – Parties as closely related as first cousins may marry in North Carolina. However, double first cousins or parties more closely related than first cousins may not marry.
- Marriage License – The parties must obtain a marriage license signed by the Register of Deeds in the county in which the marriage ceremony is to be performed. However, failure to procure a license to marry will not, by itself, invalidate an otherwise valid marriage.
- Ceremony – A marriage must be solemnized in a ceremony officiated by a minister or civil officer authorized to perform marriages. There must be at least two witnesses to the marriage ceremony.