For most couples, the focus of wedding planning revolves around the venue, the food, the band, the dress, and all the other fun parts.
Yet, no matter how incredible your cake, décor, or signature cocktail may be, it’s not the fabulous wedding that makes you a married couple.
At least not in the eyes of the law.
To be legally married, you need a marriage certificate and a license. But the how, when, and where you get them all depends on where you live and where you plan to say “I do.”
Are you in the midst of wedding planning and have questions about the paperwork?
You’re in luck! These are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about marriage licenses and certificates:
What Is a Marriage License?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning to say a quick “I do” in Vegas or a weekend wedding celebration with hundreds of guests; a marriage license is quite literally the “piece of paper” you need to make your union legal and official.
Do You Need a Marriage License To Get Married?
Yes. Your marriage ceremony won’t be legal, and most officiants won’t preside over it without a license. If you say your vows and exchange rings without one, no matter how beautiful the moment may be, the law will still regard you as two single individuals.
Do You Need To Take a Blood Test To Get a License?
No. All fifty states have done away with the mandate that couples take a blood test while applying for a license.
How Do You Get a Marriage License?
Licensing procedures vary by state, but they all start with filling out an application form.
At the most basic, you’ll have to provide information like:
You may also have to include personal information, such as:
Some states allow you to fill out an application online or submit a mail-in form. Others require that you do it in person. Some local governments accept walk-ins for in-person applications, while others require appointments.
Not a fan of big ceremonies? Make your big day “yours” by eloping. Read Your Elopement Checklist [Before, During, and After] to learn how!
What Documents Do You Need To Get a Marriage License?
At the bare minimum, you’ll need to provide a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. Some states also require you to submit an official copy of your birth certificate.
Bring a copy of your divorce decree if you’ve been married and divorced. If you’ve been married before and your previous spouse passed away, bring a copy of the death certificate, too.
Where Do You Get a Marriage License?
Every state is different, so you’ll have to research exactly how and where you must go to submit your application. Sometimes, you have to go to a county clerk’s office. Other times, you have to visit your town’s city hall.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Marriage License?
Processing times vary from state to state.
In Philadelphia, you can walk out of city hall with your license in hand as soon as you’ve filed your application form and paid the application fee. In Massachusetts, there is a three-day waiting period.
So you’ll have to apply for your license and then return three business days later to pick it up.
How Much Does a Marriage License Cost?
The cost of a license varies by state and county, but it’s usually between $35 and $150. Some courts accept credit cards but some aren’t able to process Visa, Mastercard, or debit card transactions.
Before you go, check your local .gov website to know if you need to take cash, a check, or a money order to pay the filing fee.
Remember to factor the license cost into your wedding day budget. Learn the basics of budgeting in our Ultimate Guide to Wedding Budgets!
How Long Is a Marriage License Valid?
Licenses are valid for a set period. In some states, they’re valid for as little as 30 days. In other areas, they’re valid for a year. Once you set your date, do your research so you don’t apply too early or wait too long!
Should I Bring the Marriage License to the Wedding?
YES! After your ceremony, both spouses and the officiant will sign and date the license. In some locations, one or two witnesses are necessary as well.
Keep in mind that signing it still doesn’t make you officially married. You’ll need to file it with your local court or government office to make it official.
What Is a Marriage Certificate?
A marriage certificate is an official document that declares you are a legally married couple! Depending on your state, a local court, county clerk, or some other city or state government office may issue it.
A marriage certificate is a physical hard copy document with a raised seal. It proves that you are married, and you’ll need to show it as proof of marriage if you intend to change your last name.
How Do You Get a Marriage Certificate?
You’ll receive your marriage certificate after you file your signed marriage license.
In some states, the newly married couple can file it themselves. In other counties, your officiant will file it for you. The state retains a copy and files it as a public record — the official record of your union.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Marriage Certificate?
It can take as little as a few days or as long as a few weeks to receive your official certificate. Depending on your city and state, you may receive it in the mail, pick it up in person, or have your officiant deliver it to you.
How Much Does a Marriage Certificate Cost?
Prices for a certified copy of a marriage certificate range from county to county, and the cost is sometimes as low as $5.
If you need or want an additional copy for your records, expect to pay an additional fee.
The Information on My Marriage Certificate Is Wrong. How Do I Change It?
Amending a certificate is possible. Contact your officiant or go to your local county clerk’s office to provide the corrected information and request that a new one be issued. In some cases, amending the record may require an additional processing fee.
Should You Frame Your Marriage Certificate?
Your official marriage record is a legal, binding document. That’s why many couples prefer to store theirs in a safe or a lock box with other legal documents such as birth certificates and wills.
Some order an additional copy to include in their wedding photo album.
Other couples even choose to frame theirs (though there’s a superstition that framing a marriage certificate is bad luck).
What you do with yours is totally up to you!
If I Lose My Marriage Certificate, Can I Get a New One?
A marriage certificate is considered a “vital record.” So if you lose yours, contact your state’s vital statistics department or do a check through Vitalchek.
Vitalchek is an online document-ordering service that partners with the federal government to issue new copies of official documents. In most states, you can order a copy of your certificate online through the Vitalchek service.
No matter where you live, check the requirements for marriage licenses and certificates through your county’s official .gov website.
Rules and regulations are always subject to change. Therefore, your official local government website is the best place to find the most updated information.