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Marriage Licenses: What You Need to Know

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What’s the difference between a marriage certificate and a marriage license? Get the 411 on the legal docs associated with your wedding here.

As you count down the days until your wedding day, your attention is likely placed on both your wedding ceremony when you will formally say, “We do,” and your reception when you will dine and dance with your guests. But, before you can officially wed and celebrate afterward, there’s a very important detail you will need to obtain: a marriage license.

Without this document (yes, it technically is just a piece of paper!), you will not be legally able to wed, which will put a real damper on all of the planning you have done. But, fear not! The process to obtain a marriage license and the steps you need to take once you have it in-hand are all very simple. So, keep reading as we break it all down!

What is a marriage license?

Before we get too far ahead, it’s important to understand what a marriage license is. It’s a document issued by the county where you will marry that allows you to legally marry your partner. You, your partner, and your officiant will sign and date it after your wedding ceremony, and then your officiant will mail it into the County Clerk’s office. Once it’s received, the office will review it and send you and your new spouse a marriage certificate that confirms your official union.

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How do you get a marriage license?

Step 1: Decide where you will tie the knot

It’s common for couples to think they can apply for a marriage license in the city in which they reside, but you will instead need to apply for a marriage license in the city or town in which you will be married. As a result, the first step toward obtaining a marriage license is to choose your venue! Once you have booked your location and chosen your date, note where your venue is located.

Step 2: Research the County Clerk’s office where your venue is located

If you’re celebrating your wedding day in an area where you do not reside, think about asking your venue to provide more information about the County Clerk’s office in the area. Another idea is to simply Google it! As you’re researching you will want to know:

  • When you can obtain your license
  • The hours of the office and whether or not an appointment is required
  • The documents you will need to provide
  • The individuals who must be present when you apply
  • The cost

Step 3: Set a date to apply for your marriage license

While not necessarily as exciting as setting your wedding date, deciding when you will apply for your marriage license is equally as important. Although you might be tempted to cross this to-do off of your list early on, you actually will need to wait until a date closer to when your celebration will actually take place. Plan to visit the County Clerk’s office 14-30 days prior to your wedding day. Keep in mind that if you wait until your wedding day is mere hours away, you may not be able to obtain a license, which means you are legally not able to wed.

Step 4: Bring your documents and your people to your appointment

When you apply for your marriage license, keep in mind that your appointment will occur in person (or perhaps over Zoom). During your appointment, you AND your partner must be present. This is not a time when one person can handle the task alone! Some counties also require the presence of a witness or two, so that’s something else you will want to know before you go.

Finally, make sure to bring all of the required documents with you. Most offices will ask to see your driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate. You’ll also be asked to answer questions about your parents, if applicable, such as their names, birth dates, etc. Finally, if you were previously married, don’t forget to bring proof of divorce or widow status.

Step 5: Don’t forget to bring cash or a check

A marriage license is not free, so be prepared to pay around $100. Some areas charge less, while others charge more. And, you will want to arrive at your County Clerk’s office prepared to pay for your license by cash or check. Most offices do not accept credit cards.

Step 6: Wed and return your marriage license

After your wedding ceremony, your officiant will ask to review your marriage license with you. This is the official way of saying he or she will ask you and your spouse to sign and date your document. Then your officiant will do the same. Keep in mind that some states require witnesses to be present for this moment, so inform two family and/or wedding party members that they will be performing one additional role! Once signed, your officiant will either drop off your certificate at or mail it back to your County Clerk’s office.

Step 7: Receive your marriage certificate

Your marriage license signals you have officially married during a wedding ceremony, and your marriage certificate means you are officially able to operate as a married couple. It’s an official way of saying you can change your last name, file taxes with “married” status, and more. Make sure to follow up on your marriage certificate if you have not received it from the County Clerk’s office. You’ll want to have it!

And, there you have it!

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