Marriage License and Certificate: Your Complete Guide

Your union won't be official until you obtain your marriage license. Here's everything you need to know before you head to the marriage bureau.
diane hall senior editor and wedding expert the knot worldwide
by
Diane Hall
diane hall senior editor and wedding expert the knot worldwide
Diane Hall
Contributing Senior Editor & Wedding Expert
  • Diane writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in weddings, party planning and couple lifestyle.
  • She produces editorial content for The Knot, The Bash and WeddingWire Canada.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, she was the publisher of 2life Magazine and WeddingBells Magazine.
Updated Feb 18, 2022
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.

Amid the blur of organizing your wedding and honeymoon plans, it's surprisingly easy to forget that you actually have to get legally married on paper. Why do you need a marriage license? Whether you are planning a civil marriage ceremony or a religious one, getting a marriage license beforehand is basically a permit to get married—a legal document for the public records stating that you and your partner are free and eligible to marry one another.

After the wedding ceremony, you'll get a marriage certificate—the certified copy of the marriage registration to prove you are married. Sure, it's paperwork, but it's still exciting (not to mention necessary).

So, how do you get a marriage license (a.k.a. wedding license)? We've broken it all down for you with these six easy steps to getting your marriage papers in order, along with answers to frequently asked questions.

Step 1: Choose Your Marriage Location

Where do you get a marriage license?

Once you know in which municipality (city, district and county) your nuptials will take place, you'll need to locate where to obtain the license and learn whether they schedule walk-in visits or offer marriage license online applications.

It might be city hall, the town or city clerk's office, or the marriage license bureau in the county where you plan to wed. For example, in Connecticut, marriage licenses are issued by the municipal clerk's office in the town where you'll be married, whereas in Iowa, couples may apply at any county registrar or recorder's office. In some states, like New Jersey, you can simply download a marriage license brochure and the license itself to be filled out by you and your spouse-to-be. In the State of California, they have two types of marriage licenses: a public marriage license and a confidential marriage license, adding yet another regional difference.

Refer to the Marriage License Information by State below to find the office location, legal requirements and additional information for planning a wedding in that region.

Step 2: Set Your Wedding Date

When do you get a marriage license?

Other than the physical paperwork, it's important to be aware of when to apply for a marriage license. There is a specific window around your wedding date within which you must apply, receive, sign and submit your marriage license.

As soon as your wedding date and location are set, get the marriage license application so that you know when to apply and the ID requirements for your jurisdiction. You should plan to file as early as 90 days or at least one week before your wedding.

Once you receive your license, some states require a several-day mandatory waiting period between granting the license and your nuptials taking place—this can range from 24 hours in New York City, to 72 hours, as required in the State of Texas.

You don't want to run the risk of applying too early, as your marriage license could expire, or too late such that you haven't allowed for the waiting period. Once you've done your research, add these important dates to your calendar and wedding checklist.

How long does a marriage license last?

Most marriage licenses are only valid for a period of time and then expire—anywhere between 10 days and a year—during which you must have the wedding ceremony, sign the license (together with your officiant and witnesses) and file for a certified marriage record (the signed marriage license is usually submitted by the officiant).

For example, in California, the completed marriage license needs to be returned to the clerk recorder's office within 10 business days. In Florida, it needs to be submitted before the marriage license expires (i.e. 60 days after issuance).

Pro tip: Don't wait until the last minute to get organized. It's very important that you allow enough time to research the procedure and timing in your wedding location, complete the application and gather up the ID requirements so you're ready to apply within the appropriate window.

Step 3: Decide Whether You Will Change Your Name

The marriage license application may also ask you if you're changing your surname after marriage, so we highly recommend having that discussion well before you file for one (the city clerk's office isn't the place to weigh your options). Of course, if you'd rather wait to decide, you can. In that case, work with a service like HitchSwitch to make the name change process as seamless as possible postwedding. Find out how to change your last name after the wedding here.

Step 4: Apply for a Marriage License

The marriage license application that you complete and submit is an affidavit —a sworn statement that there are no legal impediments to the marriage. Once you're ready to apply, you and your future spouse should be prepared to visit the office together (either in person or virtually (if available)). In some states, you may be required to bring a witness.

Bring Your Documentation

Requirements do vary by state, but they all want to confirm the basics: that you have proper forms of identification, that you're not currently married to anyone else (if you previously were, you need proper proof of divorce or widowhood), and date of birth to prove that you're of legal age to marry.

Marriage License ID Requirements:

  • Proof of age (birth certificate)
  • Parental consent if underage (usually under 18 years of age); you may also need a court order in this case
  • Photo id (driver's license, state ID card, military ID, passport or birth certificate)
  • Social security number
  • Proof of citizenship and/or residence
  • Both your parents' full birth names, birth dates and birth states. If they are deceased, the date of their passing.
  • Divorce decree, if divorced
  • Death certificate, if widowed

How much does a marriage license cost?

The marriage license fee varies by office and ranges from $35 to $150. Check to see which methods of payment are accepted—cash, debit card, credit card, check or money order?

How long does it take to get a marriage license?

The actual time between filing your application and receiving your license can take a few days depending on the location's office hours and procedure (e.g. whether you can pick it up in person at the time of application or receive it by mail a few days later).

Step 5. Sign and Submit Your Marriage License

Once you receive your marriage license, don't forget to bring it to your wedding ceremony. After the marriage ceremony, the couple, witnesses and the officiant will sign the marriage license.

Witnesses

Typically, the best man and maid-of-honor or parents act as witnesses, but this doesn't have to be the case. The usual requirement is that a marriage license witness needs to be old enough to know that they are witnessing a marriage ceremony (usually over 18 years of age) and must be able to sign their own name without assistance.

Officiant's Signature

The officiant is a legal official—justice of the peace, county or court clerk, a judge, magistrate or notary public. Exact requirements vary from state to state (and county to county in some cases).

The officiant submits the signed marriage license to be certified by local officials within a time limit (e.g. within 10 days in California or within 60 days of issue date in Texas).

Step 6: Get a Marriage Certificate

The issuance of a marriage certificate can occur after the marriage license has been certified by local officials. Some states automatically send the marriage certificate to the newlywed couple in the mail; others require that copies are ordered and purchased.

It's a good idea to have a marriage certificate on file as proof of marriage for taxes, insurance, banking, mortgage applications, a name change, etc.

Marriage License Information by State

Looking for an office location near you? With all of this general information in mind, we've got everything you need to know about the marriage license application process in each state:

Watch Now

Up Next
  • man signing marriage license
    8 Things No One Tells You About Getting Your Marriage License