Are you getting married? If so, congrats! Most of the wedding excitement surrounds the wedding ceremony and reception, but to make it a legal marriage you’re going to need a signed marriage license.
A marriage license is a document issued by a county clerk’s office or municipality permitting you and your future spouse to marry.
After your marriage license is signed, your officiant sends it back to the county courthouse where you applied for it to record that the marriage happened, and then you are issued a marriage certificate that proves you are married.
A marriage license and a marriage certificate are the two most important marriage documents and play a big role if you plan on changing your name.
How to get a marriage license and marriage certificate:
- Pick the date and location for your wedding
- Find your county clerk’s office
- Find an officiant
- Apply for a marriage license
- Get married and sign it
- Officiant sends it to the courthouse
- Receive your marriage certificate
Step 1: Pick the date and location of your wedding
The first thing you need to do is decide when and where you’re going to get married. This is important because you’ll need to apply for a marriage license in the county in which you’ll be getting married.
Step 2: Find your county clerk’s office
Now that you know the municipality (city, district, county, etc) of your wedding, it’s time to find out how to obtain and marriage license and where to go.
Start my google searching “marriage license + county + state” and you likely see a webpage explaining how to obtain a marriage license in that county/state.
Figuring out where to go is pretty easy, but make sure to get the timing right.
Some states require a 24-72 hour waiting period between when your marriage can take place. So don’t plan on showing up or applying on the day of your wedding!
Also, most marriage licenses are only valid for a specific number of days. So you must perform the marriage and sign the marriage license before it expires.
Once you’ve done all the research, set a date on your calendar to apply for your marriage license in person or to pick it up if you applied online.
Recommended: state marriage license laws
Step 3: Find an officiant
Next, you’ll need to find an officiant who can marry you. An officiant is a person who conducts the marriage ceremony and who is legally recognized to perform marriages.
You have a lot of options when it comes to finding an officiant.
Most weddings are conducted by religious officiants (pastors, priests, rabbis, etc.) or civil officiants (judges, justices, etc.).
A growing trend is having a friend or family member be your wedding officiant.
The most important thing is that they are legally able to perform a marriage in the state where you’re getting married.
It’s also important to pick someone you feel comfortable with. Not only do they need to perform the wedding, but your officiant should also serve as your go-to person for all your questions and concerns about your wedding.
Step 4: Apply for a marriage license
Now it’s time to apply for your marriage license or to pick it up if you applied online. Your spouse must be with you.
You may have to wait in line, so be sure to plan for it to take a few hours.
Before you leave, double-check your state’s expiration period to make sure your marriage license doesn’t expire before your wedding and make sure you know what to bring.
Each state is a little different, so be sure to check the state’s website before going.
You’ll most likely need to bring your official birth certificate and a valid photo ID (driver’s license or passport).
Some states also require a witness, so you might need to ask a friend who you’ve known for at least 6 months to come with you.
If this isn’t your first marriage, bring your divorce decree (certificate of divorce) or a death certificate (if you are a widow) to prove that you are legally able to remarry.
There will be a fee to pay for your marriage license. Fees vary by state. Most are between $25-$125.
IMPORTANT: If you are planning to change your last (and/or middle) name after marriage, ask your clerk’s office if your desired new middle and last name is accepted by your state after the wedding occurs. For example, you can take your spouse’s last name and drop your last name, move your last name to your middle name and take your spouse’s last name, hyphenate your last name by combining your last name with your spouse’s, or you could combine both of your last names to create an entirely new last name (only a few states allow this option). And of course, you can do nothing and keep your current name.
If you haven’t decided if you are going to change your name, just be sure to know the day of the wedding so your married name on your marriage licenses matches you desired new name.
Step 5: Get married and sign your marriage license
Yay! It’s your big day. After the ceremony, your officiant will start gathering signatures.
The couple – You and your partner will sign once the marriage is complete. Remember, if your marriage license has a designated area for a married name, be sure to use your desired new last name.
The officiant – Your officiant who performs your marriage must sign the license. There will be an area on the license for them to sign and specify their title or ordination.
Witness(es) – Most states require two witnesses to be physically present at the time of the marriage and to watch the two of you sign the marriage license. It can be anyone as long as they are over the age of 18. It’s most common for a best man and/or maid of honor to sign as a witness, but it couple be your parents, relatives, or friends you choose.
Step 6: Officiant sends your marriage license to the courthouse
After all the signatures have been collected, your officiant will send your marriage license to the county clerk’s office for the county to record the marriage.
Step 7: Receive your marriage certificate
In a few weeks, you’ll receive your marriage certificate in the mail. Your marriage certificate may look exactly like your license or it may be an entirely new document.
Your marriage certificate is important because it legally proves you are married. You’ll need it for things like your last name change after marriage process and to add a spouse to your family or employer-sponsored insurance plan.
Already married but need a copy of your marriage certificate?
You can get a copy of your marriage certificate by purchasing a certified copy from the county clerk’s office that issued your marriage license. Fees generally range from $5-$20 per copy. The National Center for Health Statistics (a division of the CDC) put together a helpful page to help make obtaining a certified copy easier – link here.
Frequently asked marriage license questions
Where do I get a marriage license?
You must apply for a marriage license at the county clerk’s office in the county where the wedding is to take place.
Am I eligible for a marriage license?
In most states, you are eligible if you are over the age of 18, currently unmarried (if you’re married you’ll need to get a divorce before you can legally remarry), and if you’re not marrying a relative.
When should I get my marriage license?
Determine the waiting period before the license is issued, the waiting period before you are allowed to use your license, and the expiration period. When you know those items then you can determine when the best window is to apply.
Who needs to get a marriage license?
You only need one marriage license per couple. Both parties need to be listed on the marriage license and to be present when it is picked up from the county office.
What do I need to bring to get a marriage license?
The requirements vary by state, but you’ll likely need a valid photo ID (driver’s license, state-issued ID, or a U.S. passport), your original birth certificate (photocopies are not allowed) and a divorce decree or death certificate (if you were previously married or widowed). If you live in a state that requires a blood test, then you will need that as well.
How long does it take to get my marriage license?
It will depend on the waiting period your state has. Most states don’t have a waiting period before issuing you the marriage license but some states may make you wait up to 1-5 days.
How much does a marriage license cost?
The cost varies by your county. Most range from $25-$125.
I lost my marriage license. What should I do?
Go back to the county clerk’s office that issued your original marriage license to request a duplicate. You may need to file an affidavit and repay the original fee.
Plan on changing your last name after marriage?
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!