Marriage Laws

Who can get married in Minnesota?

Men and women over 18 years old can get married without anyone’s consent. In Minnesota, as of August 1, 2013, persons of the same sex can get married. All the provisions set forth in this booklet that deal with marriage now also apply to same-sex partners who marry in Minnesota or who legally marry elsewhere and now live in Minnesota.

Young people between 16 and 18 years old need either their parents’ consent in writing or an order from the juvenile court judge in the county where they live. Minnesota says that young people under age 16 are not able to make the decision to marry and, if they do, the marriage is void. Void means as if the marriage never happened. (You can walk away from the marriage without consequences unless you have children.)

If you lie about your age to get married, or don’t get your parents’ consent or a court order, Minnesota says that your marriage can be annulled. You will need to go to court to get an annulment—a court order that says the marriage never existed. (Lying to the court is always a bad idea. It’s called perjury, and is a criminal offense.) If you get married too young, but stay married until you are 18, your marriage is then valid. If you want to end it, you will need to get a divorce.

Is the law the same in other states?

No the laws are different, so if you are planning to get married in another state, you will need to check the law there first.

How do people get married in Minnesota?

You need to get an application for a marriage license from the clerk’s office in the county where you live. The application will tell you what documents you need to bring with your filled-out application when you bring it back to the clerk. Fill out the application, bring it back, and pay the required fee. (There is a big reduction in the fee if you attend an approved pre-marriage education program.) Do not sign the application until you bring it back to the clerk.

Your license will be available in five days and will be good for six months. You can get married in any county in Minnesota. The official who married you must file your license within five days of the ceremony in the county where you got it.

Judges, members of the clergy, and some court officials can perform marriages. Check with the clerk in your county. The person who performs the marriage and two witnesses must also sign the license.

Different states have different procedures, so if you are planning to get married in another state, make sure to check on their procedures ahead of time.

What are some important rights and responsibilities of marriage?

Each spouse is responsible for the other. Both parties are entitled to use the money earned by either party to pay for the things that are necessary for the family, like food and housing.

All the property that the couple buys during the marriage is considered the property of both of them, even if only one party’s name is on the title (like land and cars). Similarly, all debts during the marriage are the responsibility of both parties even if only one person’s name is on them (like credit cards or a car loan). That also means that creditors can try to collect debts from either party.

Both parents are responsible for their children’s needs and care. This is true even when the parents do not live together or were never married.

Domestic Abuse Laws

What if there is domestic abuse in the marriage?

For Adults:

Domestic abuse means physical violence or the threat of physical harm of a spouse (people who are married) or intimate partner (not married but were living together as if married). If you are being hurt or threatened by your partner, you need to call 911 as soon as possible so that law enforcement can help separate you and the abuser. Law enforcement can help you talk with an advocate. You may choose to go to a shelter (with your children) if you need to do that to be safe.

To keep the abuser away, you can go to court to get an Order for Protection (OFP). Most courts have staff to help you fill out the necessary paperwork to get an order that says the abuser must stay away from you. Violation of an OFP is a crime. The OFP can also set terms for support of the victim and the children and order a parenting plan so that the abuser can see the children in a way that is safe for everyone. An OFP is usually good for one year. It can be renewed if there is good reason to believe a danger still exists.

Domestic abuse can take other forms, too. Forced sex is an act of aggression and violence. Name-calling, blaming, shaming, isolating, intimidating, and controlling are forms of emotional abuse. It is harder to get an OFP for emotional abuse. You may have to get a divorce to protect yourself from this kind of abuse.

For Children:

If someone is hurting you, such as your parent, brother, or sister, you need to tell a trusted adult, like a teacher, a school counselor, clergy person, or other counselor. These adults are required by law to report child abuse to the Child Protection Agency in your county. Abuse is never okay.

Check the resources at the end of the book for help if there is domestic or child abuse in your home or the home of someone you know.

Divorce Laws

How do I begin a divorce?

Minnesota law requires you to live in the state for 180 days before filing for a divorce. You will need to file your papers in the county where you or your spouse lives. Minnesota does not require you to prove that your spouse has done something bad to get your divorce.

It is possible to get the forms online that you need to do your own divorce. However, divorce can be complicated. You might be wise to consult with a lawyer, particularly if you have children or own real estate. It is very difficult to make changes to divorce decrees after the decree is final. Getting legal advice before proceeding may prove to be less expensive than trying to make changes later.

What is ADR?

Many people going through a divorce today are using Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Mediation is a form of ADR where you and your spouse hire a trained mediator who helps you work out the terms of your divorce. There are some good reasons for using mediation; it is usually cheaper, faster, and private. The most important reason is that you get to make the decisions about your divorce. If you and your soon-to-be-ex stay in charge, you are much more likely to make the decisions work after the divorce is final.

There are other forms of ADR that apply to divorce. In arbitration, you hire a person experienced in divorce law to decide the issues that you and your spouse cannot agree upon. Again, this may be faster and cheaper than going to court. It is also private.

You can even hire a person experienced in divorce law to decide all the issues of your divorce, acting as a judge. The biggest benefits of doing this are a quicker decision, privacy, and having a person with knowledge and experience make the decisions.

What is a parenting plan?

If you have children and are considering divorce, you will need to develop a parenting plan. This plan deals with issues of custody and parenting time. A number of Minnesota courts have developed a program where you and your spouse will meet with a trained team for an Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) if you need help agreeing on a plan. The ENE team will get information from you and make recommendations about a plan they believe is best for your children. If you don’t agree with them, you can hire a neutral expert to do a custody evaluation that will address all the things the law says the court needs to address when deciding parenting issues. The court will consider this evaluation, but will make its own final decision about your children.

You will also need to figure out a way to support your children in two separate households. Minnesota has laws to calculate basic child support; the Child Support Calculator is available online. The calculator takes into account both parties’ incomes, monthly health and dental premium costs, monthly childcare costs, and the amount of time the children spend with each parent.

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is money paid by one spouse to the other if that spouse cannot support himself or herself. This used to be called alimony. Spousal maintenance is based on your standard of living during the marriage. There is no set calculator, so either you agree on an arrangement, or the court must decide.

How is property and debt divided?

In your divorce you will also need to divide property and debt that you acquired during the marriage. Minnesota law says this division should be “equitable,” which usually means a 50-50 split.

What rights do children have when their parents divorce?

Children often want to know whether they have any rights when their parents divorce. While they have the right to be supported and kept safe, they really have little say in the process itself. Older children who are mature in their thinking may have some voice in parenting decisions, but their preferences are only one of many things the court looks at when determining a parenting plan. If including the children’s opinion is important, it may be helpful to talk with an attorney about various ADR processes that may be less stressful on the children and more inclusive of the children’s opinions than the court.

Establishing Paternity

Minnesota law says that children born during the marriage are assumed to be the children of each spouse unless some kind of test proves otherwise.

Men and women who have children but are not married need a way to establish who the father is. (We call this “establishing paternity.”) There are several ways to determine paternity. When the baby is born, the parents can fill out a form at the hospital called a Recognition of Parentage (ROP), and file it with the Minnesota Department of Vital Statistics along with the birth certificate. (This form can also be filled out at a later date and filed.) Also, the birth certificate can name the father. However, understand that a ROP or name on the birth certificate does not establish custody or parenting time rights for the father. A father will need to bring a court action to establish those specific rights.

If the father isn’t identified, either parent can bring a court action to establish paternity. If the child’s mother is receiving financial help from the county where she and the child live, the county may want to establish who the father is for purposes of collecting child support. If the issue of paternity is contested, DNA tests can be done. They have a high level of accuracy. If a man is found to be the father, he can be ordered to pay for birth expenses and support for the mother before and after the child is born, as well as ongoing child support.

If a man thinks he may be the father and doesn’t want to lose his rights as a parent, he can contact the Minnesota Department of Health and register in writing that he may be the father of a certain child born to a specific woman. (This listing is called the Fathers’ Adoption Registry.)

He needs to do this during the pregnancy or within 30 days of the birth of the baby. This registry is checked before a child is placed for adoption. The possible father is notified and given a chance to prove he is the father and, if he is, to oppose or support the adoption process. The county may use the adoption registry to find fathers who should be supporting their children.

Even in the situation of young men under age 18, the possible father can be brought to court to determine paternity. Once paternity is determined, a young man can be held responsible for support of his child.

Have more questions regarding marriage or family law in Minnesota?

Set up an appointment with an attorney through our online Self-Referral program by clicking here, or request assistance from an MNLRIS referral counselor here.  For more information, visit LawHelpMN to read articles drafted by some of our partnering agencies: LawHelpMN: Family.