How to Get a Marriage License
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
Planning a wedding is always an exciting time, but it's important to ensure you have the correct legal arrangements in place before your big day.
While the cost of obtaining a marriage license and the required documentation can vary by area, the basic process for getting your license is similar wherever you live.
You must obtain a marriage license before getting married. It's a legal document that grants permission to marry. Once you've received your marriage license, you and your spouse must sign it during or after the wedding ceremony to make your union legally binding.
Typically, you'll need two witnesses to observe you and your spouse signing the marriage license, although some states only require a single witness. Generally, witnesses must be 18 or older.
In most states, whoever legally officiated your marriage must also sign the marriage license. However, the following states don't require an officiant's signature:
- District of Columbia
- Some regions of Pennsylvania
A few states recognize what is known as common-law marriage. No license or ceremony is required for a common-law marriage. Instead, a couple is recognized as married after they've lived as husband and wife for many years. A common-law marriage can take years to establish, and couples won't have a legal record of their marriage. If you're planning to get married, it's better to get a license and certificate.
The primary difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate is that you obtain a marriage license prior to marriage. Meanwhile, you receive a marriage certificate after getting married. The marriage license is your application to marry, while your marriage certificate proves you're legally married.
After your wedding, someone (usually the officiant) must deliver or mail the signed wedding license to the county clerk's office to obtain your marriage certificate. The county clerk may issue your marriage certificate by mail. Otherwise, you'll need to collect it in person.
You must attend a county clerk's office to obtain a marriage license. However, it's important to decide where you want to get married beforehand. You must usually obtain a marriage license in the county where you plan to marry if it's different from where you live.
Both partners must be present to obtain a marriage license. When you visit the county clerk's office to get your marriage license, you should bring the following documentation with you:
- Proof of identity for you and your future spouse (driver's license or passport)
- Information about your parents, including their name at birth, place of birth, date of birth and date of death (if applicable)
- Certificate of divorce or your previous spouse's death certificate if you've been married before
If you're younger than 18, you may need additional evidence to get a marriage license. Some states accept written permission to marry from your parent(s), while others require a court order.
Some states also require you to bring a witness when you apply for a marriage license. Typically, you must have known your witness for at least six months before the application date.
Documentation requirements can vary significantly between counties. Therefore, it's essential to check with your county clerk's office to ensure you have everything you need before attending.
If you plan to change your name upon marriage, it's often easiest to apply for the name change at the same time as your marriage license application. Otherwise, you'll need to apply for an official name change later, which can be significantly more expensive and complex.
The state will issue a marriage license once your identity and eligibility to marry are established. When you receive the license depends on where you live. Some areas issue licenses at your application appointment, while others send them by mail.
How much a marriage license costs varies widely by area, although you should expect to pay between $35 and $150, according to Brides Magazine. You'll need to pay for the license at the appointment, so make sure you bring a payment method to your appointment to avoid delays.
Marriage licenses expire, and how long they're good for depends on your state. In many states, marriage licenses expire after 90 days, but checking the deadline where you live is essential to avoid getting caught out.
It's not a good idea to apply for your marriage license so far in advance that you risk it expiring before your wedding day. However, you don't want to leave your application until the last minute. Typically, you'll have to wait a few days before you can use your marriage license to get married.
Waiting periods vary, so research the rules in your area before deciding when to apply. As a rule of thumb, it's best to apply for your marriage license no later than a week before your wedding day and no further than 90 days in advance.
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