Iowa Wedding Laws
Drafted and last reviewed for accuracy by the Iowa marriage law team at the Universal Life Church Ministries on
To many outsiders, a rural Midwestern state like Iowa may seem rustic. But looks can be deceiving and in fact Iowa was ahead of the curve when it comes to same-sex marriage. It was legalized in 2009, six years before marriage equality became the law of the land because of a decision in the state Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, Iowa still demands certain requirements of all couples wishing to marry legally in the state. Couples and officiants alike should pay close attention to the rules and notable exceptions compiled in this handy guide with reference to the relevant legal codes.
How to Become a Wedding Officiant in Iowa
Depending on the specific county where the wedding takes place, a minister of the Universal Life Church who officiates a wedding in Iowa may need to provide either an Ordination Credential or a Credential in addition to a Letter of Good Standing. Nevertheless, a ULC minister ordained online is a religious actor, and his or her stated gender, personal beliefs, or place of residence should have no bearing on his or her authorization to perform a wedding in Iowa.
Ordained or designated leaders of a religious faith, judges, and magistrates all have the authority to solemnize marriages. The state of Iowa will recognize the validity as long as the officiant was also at least 18 years of age at the time of the ceremony.
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I.C.A. § 595.10 Marriages may be solemnized by:
A judge of the supreme court, court of appeals, or district court, including a district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or a judicial magistrate, and including a senior judge as defined in section 602.9202, subsection 3.
A person ordained or designated as a leader of the person's religious faith.
Getting Married in Iowa
During a wedding ceremony in Iowa, at least one adult witness besides the officiant must generally be present when the couple consents to take one another in marriage. However, if the marriage customs of certain denominations do not conform to this formula, state law makes an exception. Otherwise, couples and ministers are free to plan the ceremony according to their own desires and customs. State law does not impose any formal requirements on the marriage ceremony itself.
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The provisions of this chapter, as they relate to procuring licenses and to the solemnizing of marriages are not applicable to members of a denomination having an unusual mode of entering the marriage relation.
How to Get a Iowa Marriage License
The fee to apply for a marriage license in Iowa is $35. Along with the fee, the couple must provide a verified application in person to the county registrar. The application includes an affidavit attesting to the stated ages of both parties signed by a competent witness. It also includes the Social Security numbers of both prospective spouses.
If either party to the marriage has divorced from someone else within the previous 60 days of applying for a license, the application must include a copy of the divorce decree. Otherwise, it is sufficient to simply provide the date of any previous divorces.
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I.C.A. § 595.4 1. Previous to the issuance of any license to marry, the parties desiring the license shall sign and file a verified application with the county registrar which application either may be mailed to the parties at their request or may be signed by them at the office of the county registrar in the county in which the license is to be issued. The application shall include the social security number of each applicant and shall set forth at least one affidavit of some competent and disinterested person stating the facts as to age and qualification of the parties. Upon the filing of the application for a license to marry, the county registrar shall file the application in a record kept for that purpose and shall take all necessary steps to ensure the confidentiality of the social security number of each applicant. All information included on an application may be provided as mutually agreed upon by the division of records and statistics and the child support recovery unit, including by automated exchange.
Applying For a Marriage License in Iowa
Marriage licenses in Iowa do not expire, but they are only valid in the county where they are issued, and then only after a waiting period that varies in length depending on the county. The waiting period is five days in Jasper County and three days in all others. The county registrar only issues the license after verifying the information provided in the application. For the marriage to be valid, the license must be returned within 15 days of the ceremony to the same issuing clerk in the registrar's office.
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I.C.A. § 595.4.2. Upon receipt of a verified application, the county registrar may issue the license which shall not become valid until the expiration of three days after the date of issuance of the license. If the license has not been issued within six months from the date of the application, the application is void.
Iowa Marriage Requirements
Both the 2009 decision in the Iowa Supreme Court and the 2015 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the provision in Iowa law that only recognized marriage between a man and a woman as valid. Therefore, same-sex couples are able to marry in Iowa and have been for over 10 years. However, some restrictions still apply to couples wishing to marry. For example, state law does not recognize allow marriages between relatives closer than second cousins.
The consent of a legal guardian is not enough to allow minors aged 16 or 17 to marry in Iowa. They must also receive a ruling from a district court judge, provided they can convince him or her that they are prepared to assume marital responsibilities. In a situation where parents or guardians do not consent to the marriage, the judge may be able to overrule this if he or she deems that the withholding of the consent is unreasonable.
Otherwise, people in Iowa must be at least 18 years old to marry. However, the state is not proactive in invalidating marriages between people making false claims as to their age. Unless a party to the marriage actively seeks out an annulment on such grounds, the state will continue to recognize it.
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I.C.A. § 595.2 1. Only a marriage between a male and a female is valid.
Additionally, a marriage between a male and a female is valid only if each is eighteen years of age or older. However, if either or both of the parties have not attained that age, the marriage may be valid under the circumstances prescribed in this section.
If either party to a marriage falsely represents the party's self to be eighteen years of age or older at or before the time the marriage is solemnized, the marriage is valid unless the person who falsely represented their age chooses to void the marriage by making their true age known and verified by a birth certificate or other legal evidence of age in an annulment proceeding initiated at any time before the person reaches their eighteenth birthday. A child born of a marriage voided under this subsection is legitimate.
A marriage license may be issued to a male and a female either or both of whom are sixteen or seventeen years of age if both of the following apply:
a. The parents of the underage party or parties certify in writing that they consent to the marriage. If one of the parents of any underage party to a proposed marriage is dead or incompetent the certificate may be executed by the other parent, if both parents are dead or incompetent the guardian of the underage party may execute the certificate, and if the parents are divorced the parent having legal custody may execute the certificate; and
b. The certificate of consent of the parents, parent, or guardian is approved by a judge of the district court or, if both parents of any underage party to a proposed marriage are dead, incompetent, or cannot be located and the party has no guardian, the proposed marriage is approved by a judge of the district court. A judge shall grant approval under this subsection only if the judge finds the underage party or parties capable of assuming the responsibilities of marriage and that the marriage will serve the best interest of the underage party or parties. Pregnancy alone does not establish that the proposed marriage is in the best interest of the underage party or parties, however, if pregnancy is involved the court records which pertain to the fact that the female is pregnant shall be sealed and available only to the parties to the marriage or proposed marriage or to any interested party securing an order of the court.
- If a parent or guardian withholds consent, the judge upon application of a party to a proposed marriage shall determine if the consent has been unreasonably withheld. If the judge so finds, the judge shall proceed to review the application under subsection 4, paragraph “b”.
Finalizing the Union
The officiant who performs the ceremony must then return the completed marriage certificate to the issuing county registrar within 15 days of the ceremony. To be complete and valid, the certificate should bear the name, title, and ordaining body (Universal Life Church) of the officiant, the names of the couple and the witness, the location of the ceremony, and the date. In the space provided on the certificate, the officiant must also attest to the marriage for it to be legally recognized. The officiant only has to provide his or her home address if asked on the form.
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After the marriage has been solemnized, the officiating minister or magistrate shall attest to the marriage on the blank provided for that purpose and return the certificate of marriage within fifteen days to the county registrar who issued the marriage license.