How to Get a Marriage License

A bride signing a marriage certificate.

Obtaining a marriage license is an essential part of the pre-wedding process, but it also can feel like one of the most confusing and overwhelming. The good news is that the actual process tends to be fairly simple if you know what you need to do and prepare accordingly. Here are some important things to know and find out before getting your wedding license.

Know the State and Destination Requirements

The city clerk building where you can get a marriage license.

Different states (or countries if you’re doing a destination wedding) require different things to get your marriage license, and it’s important that you know the laws for the state you’ll be getting married in before you request a license. You can check your state’s government website for more specific information, or you can always call city hall or the town clerk’s office for the location you’re getting married if you’re unsure. That last bit is essential, though: that you get a license specific to the location where you’re getting married, rather than your current city of residence, if they’re not the same place. Some states require that you go to the city or county where the wedding will take place, while others simply require you to be within the state, so make sure you know which is accurate for your location and plan accordingly.

Go With Your Future Spouse

Grabbing your wedding license is one task on the to-do list that you’re not allowed to use the “divide and conquer” method for. You both need to be in attendance and with the required documents (which we’ll talk about in just a minute) in order to complete the process. Consider making a day of it and going to run this errand together before having a nice celebratory lunch or dinner.

Know What to Bring to Get the Marriage Certificate

A stack of important information to bring with you to get a marriage license, including a passport and social security card.

When you get your marriage license, what you will have to bring with you varies slightly from state to state. Look up what you will need for your specific location, but here’s an idea:

  • Photo ID (like a driver’s license or passport)
  • Birth Certificate/Proof of Citizenship
  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of Consent from parents or the court system if you’re underage
  • Blood test (although most states no longer require this, there are still a few like Mississippi that do)

Keep in mind that if you or your partner have been married before and is either divorced or widowed, you will need to bring proof of this with you, such as a divorce decree or death certificate. Most offices will have the ability to look this up for you on the spot (generally for a fee) if you cannot locate a physical copy, but make sure to confirm this before showing up.

Consider Timing Between Pickup and the Ceremony

One of the main things to think about when you decide when exactly to go get your wedding certificate is how far in advance of your wedding to go and how long it will be before the license will expire. All states have an expiration date for licenses, which can be anywhere from ten days to one year, so be aware of how far in advance you complete this task. It’s also extremely important to know if your state requires a grace period between obtaining the license and your actual wedding date. If there is a grace period, know that you can have your license mailed to you or you can pick it up, but make sure you make a plan for how you will obtain it before your wedding day and make sure your plan works with any travel arrangements you may be making around your big day.

Be Prepared for the Cost

Marriage licenses do cost money, which can range from $30 to over $100 depending on the location, so be prepared to pay the cost on the day you apply. Another important detail not to overlook is the form of payment accepted in that specific office. Some places only accept cash while others need a check, and some can even process credit or debit card payments. It’s a good idea to call in advance and confirm accepted payment types so you’re not in a bind when you arrive.

Be Prepared With a Decision About Your Name Change

Depending on the state, you may need to be ready to state your future married name on your license. If you’re unsure of whether you’re going to change your name or not, it’s a good idea to have those conversations before you get your license, so you’re not faced with a big decision in the clerk’s office. Be prepared for that possibility and make those decisions before you walk in.

What Happens After You Receive the Marriage License?

Once you receive your license, either on the day you go in or a few days later, depending on the laws of the state, make sure you know exactly what needs to be done with it moving forward. Something that varies from state to state is whether or not you need witnesses to sign the document on your wedding day. Also, be sure to communicate with your officiant as to whether they will be filing out your license or if you’ll need to handle that yourself. Most of the time your officiant will do this as part of their role in the wedding, but it’s important to confirm that so you know everything gets handled properly after the day is done.

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