When to Apply for a Marriage License: The Details You Need

Mark your calendars.
Couple signing marriage license
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Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
The Knot Contributor
  • Heather contributes wedding, honeymoon, travel and relationship content for The Knot and WeddingWire.
  • Heather also writes for publications including Apartment Therapy, StyleBlueprint, MyDomaine, HelloGiggles and The Everygirl.
  • She holds a degree in Art History and Architectural History from the University of Virginia.
Updated Jul 31, 2023

When you're planning a wedding, there are countless exciting items on the to do list, from selecting a color palette to choosing a menu. But there are also logistics to be taken care of, like knowing when to apply for a marriage license and understanding how that determines the timing of your wedding.

Issued by either a county clerk's office, city hall or marriage license bureau, your marriage license is the document you'll need to get married, and, after you say your vows, you'll receive a marriage certificate that says you are officially married in the eyes of the state. Applying for one can seem like a bureaucratic nightmare, but it's actually a quick process — as long as you have the correct timing, the right documents in hand and a little bit of patience when you arrive for your appointment.

In this article:

When to Apply for a Marriage License

Marriage licenses should never be left to the last minute, and keep in mind that these are governed by US County clerks, so you should always check with your locality first before making plans.

"It typically takes 3-6 days from filing your application to getting your license approved. In general, a couple should apply about one week before their ceremony," recommends Micaela Beltran, Co-Founder and CEO of Courtly, which helps couples get their marriage licenses online. In bigger cities, you may want to make your appointment even further out since there may be less availability.

However, you don't want to plan too far ahead either. In some states, marriage licenses expire after 30, 60 or 90 days. Need a reminder? The Knot's Wedding Checklist tool will make sure you stay on track and don't miss any important deadlines.

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Does it vary by state?

Like many legalities surrounding marriage, your plans will vary by the requirements in your state. In most cases, you'll apply for the license in the state where you're actually saying I do. For Washington, DC couples, for example, a marriage license can be issued the same day you'd like to get married and it never expires. However, in Louisiana, there is a 24-hour waiting period between receiving your license and getting married, then there is a 30-day expiration date. And Texas makes you wait three days to get married and their licenses expire in 90 days.

We've got all of the marriage license details, state-by-state, so you can easily find the laws for your jurisdiction.

What to Bring When Applying for A Marriage License

First and foremost, you'll need to know where and when you actually plan on getting married when you apply for your marriage license. In most cases, this must be filled out on the application.

Beltran offers sage advice for those looking to make just one trip to successfully apply for their marriage license, "As with any government application process, it's better to be extra prepared! Avoid surprises at the office and do your research about your specific county in advance because each one is different."

"Bring identification, divorce or death decree of a previous spouse if this isn't a first marriage for either partner, cash, typically between $35 and $150," says Jean Neuhart, former wedding planner, author and blogger at Weddings From the Heart. A driver's license or passport will likely suffice as identification, but you may also need a birth certificate and information about your parents, including full names, birthdates, birthplace and, if applicable, dates of passing.

While many offices will allow you to make an appointment, be prepared to wait once you arrive. To make it a little more bearable, Neuhart suggests, "Lighten the "official" feeling by bringing your partner flowers or writing them a little note expressing how much you are looking forward to your marriage."

What to Do After Applying for a Marriage License

After applying for the marriage license, you have the government's permission to walk down the aisle! There's one more logistical piece to button up, and then it's time to celebrate you and your new partner's union.

Make a fun day out of receiving your license.

While you may have to head back to work or continue knocking out final wedding planning tasks immediately after getting your license, it can also be another occasion to celebrate if you have time. Do something as simple as taking a photo of your first moment with legal permission to get married or go out for lunch before returning to your workday.

Neuhart explains, "You can get married without flowers or a cake. You can't get married without a license. So celebrate checking off that oh-so-important to-do item with a romantic dinner or a walk in the park."

Take care of the final, official step.

Whether you're saying I do in front of 300 people or sharing a quiet, mountaintop ceremony with a single witness, your officiant will likely need to sign your marriage license and then return it to the county clerk. At that point, you'll receive a marriage certificate in the mail verifying your marriage.

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