Marriage Licenses And Certificates: What You Need To Know

You would never know that wedding planning could be so complex! You think it is just a matter of getting the dress, cake, and a venue, but there are more things to consider.

One of the first things on your To-Do list should be getting your marriage license.

Are you getting married in or out of state?  Different states have different rules for marriage licenses.

Have you been married before?  If yes, you need additional paperwork.

Did you know about the different waiting periods in some states? 

If you plan on getting married in the same state, then it’s much easier – go down and fill out some paperwork at the county’s clerk’s office! 

If you are getting married in another state, then it’s a little more involved. You’ll need some additional paperwork for out-of-state marriage licenses.

You will find out what you need to provide for applying for your marriage license at the clerk’s office in the municipality (county, district, or state) where your wedding is taking place. 

But first, the basics.

People often misunderstand marriage licenses with marriage certificates. What you will normally need is a marriage certificate which proves two persons are legally married.

What Is A Marriage License?

A Marriage License is a document that grants permission to marry someone else. The document must be signed by both you (and sometimes a witness) on both copies for it to be notarized. It is a legal document issued by a government agency, which allows two people to legally wed. You can apply at any time of year.

Without a marriage license, your officiant isn’t allowed to marry you.  

You have to plan a thousand details for your wedding but if you accidentally forget to bring the license to the venue where you are getting married, you cannot proceed with the ceremony.

What Is A Marriage Certificate?

A Marriage Certificate is a legal document that proves you have been married.  It can be issued by a government office, such as a city hall or clerk’s office, and by religious institutions. The latter once commonly issue Certificates Of Matrimony to officiate weddings held within their walls.

In some states, a marriage must be officiated by an ordained minister or religious leader to have legal validity and qualify as “sacramental” (i.e., California).

What Is The Difference Between A Marriage License And A Marriage Certificate?

A Marriage License needs to be obtained before getting married. Once this has been done, you receive your confirmed Marriage Certificate from the county records office after being legally wed by an officiant or person with authority of law that recognizes your union as legal under state laws.

When Should You Apply For Your Marriage License, And How Long Will It Take To Process Once Submitted? 

You might be thinking, “I have a whole year before my wedding!” But the truth is, there are tons of things that could catch up with you, and one of them is taking care of getting your marriage license.  Here’s what we mean… 

Before the wedding, you will need to apply for a marriage license in the county/state where you intend to wed.

After obtaining your marriage license, you are permitted to have your wedding ceremony held within that county, provided you have met all the waiting period requirements and your marriage license is still valid.

Your marriage certificate must be signed following the wedding ceremony in order to formalize the marriage. 

If a mistake is made, your marriage could be regarded as null and void.

Plan your trip to the county clerk once you know when and where you’re getting married

1. Set The Date Of Your Wedding

After you have confirmed the date with the wedding venue, make sure your wedding ceremony happens before the marriage license expires

You will only be given a specific window of time, which varies from state to state, and your wedding must be within that period. 

Otherwise, if it expires and needs renewing again later on down the line when there are already other deadlines coming up, like finding an officiant or picking out flowers – this will be more difficult than just applying at the right time.

Another wedding date-related issue is navigating the waiting time between receiving the marriage license and when the ceremony can occur if you apply for the certificate at the last minute. 

It varies from state to state and county to county, so make sure you find out how it applies to you. The waiting time could range from a few hours to three days, and the marriage ceremony cannot take place during the waiting time, starting from the exact time that the marriage license was issued.

2. Decide On The Location Of Your Wedding

Before you can apply for a marriage license, do you know where the wedding will be? The location is essential because you have to apply and have your wedding ceremony in that county.

3. Visit The County Clerk’s Office To Apply For Your Marriage License

To maximize your time, try to pre-arrange an appointment to avoid waiting in line.  Both you, the applicants, need to be present and must appear together.

marriage license count clerk's office

What Documents Should You Bring To The County Clerk’s Office?

You’ll need a couple of things before going: your social security number, photo ID (driver’s license or passport), birth certificate if applicable for either party; proof that you are single (divorce decree, death certificate of spouse if applicable); and a valid form or two that proves you’re not related to the other person.

However, please check with your county if there is anything else they require.  For example, if you’re not a US citizen, make sure that all of these documents are in English.

You may receive your marriage license immediately, or it can take anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on your state’s requirements and how busy they are with other applications at that time of year (Christmas is usually more active).

Additionally, you should provide information about your parents, like their full birth names, dates of birth, states of birth, and, if applicable, dates of passing.

4. The Marriage Certificate Is Signed And Completed In The Presence Of The Officiant And Two Witnesses

Occasionally during the ceremony, but more commonly after it has occurred, each party signs the marriage certificate in front of witnesses who are not family members (often the Maid of Honor and the Best Man). 

Then the officiant and the two witnesses will sign.

Be sure to ask someone who knows you well enough for at least six months so they can sign your marriage license application with their signature to “witness.”

It is now the officiant’s responsibility to mail or deliver your marriage certificate in person to the county clerk’s office so they can issue the certificate and send it to you.

Your marriage will be legal and valid once all signatures are obtained and the signed certificate is filed with the county clerk’s office.

What Are The Age Requirements To Get Your Marriage License?

You must be at least 18 years old to get a marriage license. If you are under the age of 16, your parents will need consent from their state’s court system for them and not someone else (such as an older sibling) to sign on behalf or represent both parties involved with getting married before they can receive one themselves!

What Does A Marriage License Cost?

A marriage license runs for around $55 in most states in the U.S.  Marriage license fees vary from county to county and state to state.  I.e., In California, the cost is $35 for a marriage license and must be paid in cash or by credit card at the time of application.  Some counties also require an additional administrative processing charge ranging from county to county $25 per couple (in Los Angeles County).

What If You Want To Change Your Last Name?

One or both of you may elect to change your surname by which you wish to be known after the marriage by entering a new surname on the marriage license application.  If not, you may do so at any time after your wedding by executing a change of name certificate.

The new surname will be effective as soon it is filed with the county clerk or recorder where the marriage license was issued.

If you would like to change your last name, the new spouse’s surname must be entered on all documents.  This includes social security cards and driver licenses and birth certificates for any children born after your marriage (if applicable).  You will need an original or certified copy of both spouses’ legal names to make this request.

What If You Plan On Getting Married Or Moving Out Of The United States And Want To Get Married?

If you plan a destination wedding or move outside the U.S. and want to get married, your marriage license will need to be from where it is taking place (the state). If this takes place in another country, it requires an apostille for authentication of documents on behalf of our government’s Department Of State.


Once you have a marriage license, make sure you get married with an officiant that is authorized by the state where you are getting married. 

This is usually done through a religious organization but can also include an ordained minister or even someone who has been appointed as your official witness for legal purposes (such as notary public). 

If you’re not religious, then it’s time to find an alternative solution. There are many websites out there that help couples plan their wedding ceremonies and will provide ordained ministers for those who need one without having any religious affiliation.


If you’re ready to tie the knot, it’s time for a marriage license.  I hope this post helped answer some of your questions and gave insight into what is required in order to get one!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Do I Get A Certified Copy Of My Marriage Certificate?

You can get a certified copy of your marriage certificate by contacting the county clerk’s office in which you got married. You will need to provide them with some information about yourself, such as name and date of birth so they know who is requesting it for – this should be easy if there are other records on file from when you got married.

Can You Get Married Without A Marriage License?

No, you cannot get married without a marriage license.

You must have the appropriate paperwork to be legally wed in your state or country of residence – and that includes having obtained an official document from either government authorities (such as through getting certified copies).

What To Do With The Marriage License After The Wedding?

After the wedding, you should keep your marriage license on hand in case it is ever needed. For example, if there are any questions about who married whom or when – such as for a divorce proceeding where one spouse may want to remarry and needs proof of their previous union’s dissolution (or annulment).

You can also use this document later down lifeline- like applying with social security administration so that they know how much money will be coming into each household from retirement benefits based on both parties’ earnings history.

 *The information contained herein does NOT constitute legal advice*

**The content here should be used only after consulting local authorities**

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