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In my native language there is a noun phrase for 'legally-married couple'. I wonder if there is something similar in the English language. I have looked up the following phrases, but they all seemed to have slightly different meaning:

  • legal couple
  • legally-married couple
  • lawfully-married couple
  • lawful couple
  • registered couple
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    This probably reflects cultural differences. What would a couple who were married but not legally married mean in your culture? It's not a distinction that is very important in most English-speaking countries, so there isn't a short term for it. You could, as you surmise say "legally-married" or "legally-wed".
    – Stuart F
    Apr 21, 2023 at 8:21
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    Since marriage customs vary so widely, you should not expect English to have a term that's exactly like one in your native culture or language. Pick one and use it, with whatever reservations you might have ready to explain to anyone who questions. Apr 21, 2023 at 18:20
  • In your native language, do the couple register their marriage before or after actually they get married? That is, is it registering intent or registering the fact that the ceremony happened?
    – shoover
    Apr 22, 2023 at 2:07
  • Ok, I want to clear up that in my culture, you can either register your marriage before or after the wedding/ ceremony. Also, we often use 'married couple/ husband and wife' for a couple who has organized a wedding only, and 'legal couple/ legally-married couple' for a couple who has registered their marriage. Apr 22, 2023 at 4:40

2 Answers 2

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As has already been pointed out on this page, legally in legally married is usually redundant. Marriage is, however, an institution that has both legal and informal social aspects, and although they usually go together, one can imagine some scenarios in which they don't. In such cases, legally married may be a useful term for focusing on the legal aspects of the relationship and setting aside the nonlegal social ones.

Two people may present themselves as married to those around them, and be perceived as married by them, but there may be some unclarity as to the legal status of their union. In such a scenario, if one needed to clarify the matter, one would want to ask whether they are legally married, and not just whether they are married, to make it unambiguous that the question is specifically about the legal aspects of the relationship.

The phrase may also be useful in the scenarios in which two people are, for the purposes of their social life, not married, but in which, because of some technicality, they are married in the eyes of the law. For example, one can say of two people who are going through a divorce, but whose divorce hasn't yet been finalised, that they are still legally married. The qualifier legally would be be very much needed in such a context, as just saying that they are married would be misleading without such a qualification.

So, to answer the question directly, legally married is an OK phrase to use, but to understand why it is used in a particular case, one needs to be aware of what in that case makes it necessary to consider the legal aspect of the marriage apart from its other aspects. Assuming that the audience is aware of that, legally married is a better term for the OP's purposes than the alternatives proposed in the question: lawful may be taken to suggest that there is something unlawful, wrong, about not being thus married, while registered is likely to be unclear to a typical audience in an English-speaking country. (Registered may, however, be on OK term, if one is writing for an audience that is familiar with the country one is writing about, and it can be assumed that the audience will recognise it as an English rendering of the term standardly used in that country's language.)

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    in my community, many couples will have a religious ceremony before they get a marriage license/certificate/etc. They are considered "married" by the community even before their marriage would be legally recognized, and we would definitely use "legally married" to describe the state of the couple after they obtain a marriage certificate.
    – Esther
    Apr 21, 2023 at 16:18
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You may choose to use the noun phrase Married Couple

Marriage is the legal union of a couple as spouses. The basic elements of a marriage are: (1) the parties' legal ability to marry each other, (2) mutual consent of the parties, and (3) a marriage contract as required by law.

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    True. Married implies legally married - if the union isn't legal it wouldn't be described as a marriage - or if it's a fraud, it would be an invalid or bogus marriage. Apr 21, 2023 at 7:53
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    There is the old tradition of common-law marriage, which doesn't involve a legal ceremony, but I don't know if it's still a legal thing anywhere in the UK, US, Canada, etc - Wikipedia suggests not in most places.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 21, 2023 at 8:22
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    Thank you for the answer, I was thinking that 'married couple' refers to a couple who have only held a wedding ceremony, while a different phrase would be use to refer to that same couple but after they have got the marriage license/ certificate. But now I understand. Apr 21, 2023 at 9:57
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    @HuânTrươngĐình actually, yeah. Couples who have merely acquired their license are not really considered to be married. These days, a justice of the peace can perform the ceremony, and often does, cutting out the middle man and this liminal period between "engaged" and "married", but we don't really have a term for it.
    – No Name
    Apr 21, 2023 at 11:02
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    @KateBunting at least in the UK there is a third case: due to the requirement that the couple must both be in regular attendance in the parish but many people now marry non-locals, it's not that uncommon for a couple who want to be married in a church to get legally married at the council office then 'actually married' in the church with the church wedding which has no legal standing. Apr 21, 2023 at 15:53

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