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Published: 2008-03-26

Marriage Laws in Missouri

What These Words Mean

Beneficiary - the person who receives the money from an insurance policy or a will
Spouse - husband or wife
Heir (air) - person who gets someone's property after that one dies
Will - a legal paper that tells the wishes about what should be done with a person's property after he dies
Prenuptial Agreement - a contractual agreement between husband and wife prior to the marriage, which provides a practical means of distributing property and dealing with financial matters in the event of a divorce

Marriage brings new happiness, but it also brings new duties. This brochure will help you understand those legal duties. If you have any questions regarding the legal consequences of marriage and divorce, it is highly recommended that you consult a lawyer prior to your marriage.

Requirements for a Valid Marriage

There are many legal consequences that arise from a marriage which affect a couple's future life together, including, but not limited to the following: filing of tax returns, employment-related benefit programs, the legal right to inherit assets if your spouse dies and, in the result of a divorce, issues of support, maintenance (formerly called alimony), child custody and division of property.

When you have made the decision to marry, both of you must go to the local county courthouse to obtain a marriage license well in advance of the actual ceremony. You should call the local county courthouse in advance of going to obtain the marriage license to ascertain the fee that is charged (many counties require cash). You will need to take with you a form of identification, such as a driver's license. After applying for your license, there is a short waiting period. After this waiting period has expired, you need to pick up your license at the courthouse and get married within 30 days. Missouri does not require blood tests.

There are laws in Missouri which place restrictions on marriages with regard to mental capacity and age. For instance, if you married your spouse under any pretense of fraud or coercion, the marriage may not be valid and the law may treat the marriage as if it never existed. In other words, there are certain factual requirements that must be met prior to individuals entering into marriage, such as age and voluntary consent.

The minimum age one can enter into a valid marriage without parental consent is 18. Teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 may marry, provided the teenager obtains consent of either a parent or guardian. The parent or guardian must consent to the marriage in person or in the form of writing, stating the residence of the person giving such consent, and said writing must be signed and sworn to before an officer authorized to administer oaths. If you are under the age of 15, you need to obtain a court order prior to getting married.

The actual marriage may be solemnized by any clergyman, either active or retired, who is in good standing with any church or synagogue in the state of Missouri or by any judge of a court of record other than a municipal or city judge.

If you live with a significant other, in the state of Missouri common law marriage does not exist. If the relationship began in another state where common law marriages are recognized, Missouri law might recognize a common law marriage.


Both parents have a legal duty to financially support their children. The husband and wife, generally speaking, have a financial duty to support one another, depending upon the circumstances of the marriage. In the event of a divorce, there are laws in the state of Missouri which assist a court in determining the financial support obligations after a divorce. Parents do not have any legal obligation to support their children financially after their children get married.

Do You Need to Change Beneficiaries?

You may wish to designate your spouse as beneficiary for your life insurance and other assets for which you may designate a beneficiary. You should speak with your insurance agent or employer regarding any changes in beneficiaries. Designating your spouse as beneficiary of tax-deferred investments, such as 401-Ks, IRAs, Keoghs, tax-deferred annuities, etc., may allow your spouse to continue to defer the income tax on those accounts if they roll the proceeds over into an IRA account of their own in the event of your untimely death.

Property Ownership After Marriage

If you own property before your marriage, you may wish to consult with a lawyer prior to your marriage, since titling such property jointly with your spouse can make it more likely that your spouse could be entitled to all or a portion of that property in the event of a divorce. You may even desire to discuss with a lawyer executing a prenuptial agreement to set forth how your property would be divided in the event that things do not work out.

Any property that is purchased after the marriage, regardless of how it is titled, is marital property. In the event of a divorce, courts will look at the source of funds in determining how property is divided in the event of a divorce; however, the general rule to follow is that any income or assets that are generated during a marriage are marital property and subject to a 50% division at the time of divorce.

You Have a New Heir

When you are married, each of you becomes the heir of the other. As soon as you have children, they also become your heirs.

It is good to have a will, even if you don't have much property. If you have children, the only way you can leave all your property to your husband or wife is to have a will that states your wishes, or to say who you would like to have custody.

If you don't have a will, you will have no say in how property is divided.

If you have a will which excludes your spouse and children, Missouri law provides that notwithstanding this exclusion, your spouse and children have certain rights to your estate which may be enforced after your death.

Changing Your Name

A bride may take her husband's last name, retain her own surname or hyphenate both her own surname and her husband's surname. Example: Mary Smith marries Jack Jones. She may wish to be known as Mary Jones, Mary Smith or Mary Smith-Jones. Likewise, a bride who wishes to take her husband's last name may retain her given middle name or use her own surname as a middle name.

If you take a new name, you should tell:

  • The federal government for your social security records. Your employer can help with this.
  • Your employer and your spouse's employer. It will make a difference in your income tax.
  • The city hall if you have moved and want to vote in the next election.
  • The bride should notify the auto license office within 10 days after the wedding. They will make her a new license for a small charge.

If, at the time of your marriage, you do not take your spouse's name and later change your mind, you can file a petition for change of name with the court.

Buy on Time/Use of Credit

Marriage creates many new financial obligations. The Missouri Bar has a brochure called "Buying On Time," which will assist you in understanding the cost of buying cars, furniture, appliances or other household goods on credit.

Buying a Home

If you plan to buy a home, you may want a lawyer to help you:

  • write your offer to buy;
  • check the title;
  • check the contract before you sign it.

The Missouri Bar has a free brochure called "Buying a Home." It may answer some questions you have about buying your own home.

Keeping Records

You need to keep in a safe place:

  • your insurance policies
  • your marriage certificate
  • your birth certificate
  • church certificates
  • your contracts
  • your children's birth certificates

Pay your bills by check if you can, and keep the cancelled checks. These are important records.

You can subtract from your income tax:

  • medical care
  • health insurance payments
  • taxes paid to the city or state
  • union dues
  • money you have given to charity

If you do not have a checking account, ask for receipts for payments you have made on these things.

If You Need Help Finding a Lawyer

If you need help finding a lawyer, call The Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service at 573/636-3635.

In St. Louis, call 314/621-6681
In Kansas City, call 816/221-9472
In Springfield, call 417/831-2783

The Missouri Bar, P.O. Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0119