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Marriage License

Marriage License

A report by the U.S Census Bureau indicated that in 2018, there were over 2.13 million marriages in the United States. Marriage in most places worldwide is a social and religious institution. It is also legal, hence it has to be constituted within the confines of applicable state laws.

One of these such laws necessitates acquiring a marriage license before conducting a marriage ceremony. A marriage license is a legal document issued by a government authority to permit a marriage between a couple. The practice of obtaining a marriage license is not a new phenomenon as it started way in the past to provide means for government to disallow marriages which would have been illegal.

In this guide, we will cover the following key topic areas under marriage licenses;

How to obtain a Marriage license

Marriage License Requirements

Marriage License vs. Marriage Certificate

Other factors to consider before Obtaining a Marriage License

What is the validity of a Marriage license?

Are there instances when a Marriage license is not required?

Marriage License for Foreigners

Closing Thoughts

How to obtain a Marriage license

To get a Marriage license, couples-to-be need to pay a visit to the county clerk office or the county district court in the state they want to hold their wedding at. This is key as one cannot obtain a Marriage license in New York for a wedding taking place in Florida. Nowadays, with the popularity of destination weddings, most states will issue a Marriage license even to non-residents. Check out this 3-minute guide by the Denver Youtube Channel to see how a typical marriage license application process would be like.

Still, it is very important to confirm the expectations and requirements needed to obtain a Marriage license in a specific state before visiting their offices. This is because the details required vary from state to state. For example, some states require both parties to be in attendance, others allow only one of them provided they have complete details of their spouse. In other states, couples are allowed to apply and fill in the Marriage license online, pay via a credit card and have it mailed after processing. Most of this information is available on the specific state’s website or can be enquired by a phone call.

Marriage License Requirements

Identification Documents

This is a standard requirement when applying for a Marriage license. Identification documents could be in the form of a driver’s license, state photo ID, birth certificate, passport, proof of residency, etc.

In the event of a subsequent marriage, there is a need to produce a divorce decree or a death certificate in the case of a widow/widower as part of identification documents. Some divorce decrees may have a clause indicating that the parties cannot get into another marriage before a certain duration lapse e.g a month. It is therefore important to consider this when applying for a Marriage license.

A birth certificate ascertains the age of the parties intending to marry i.e they are of marriageable age (majority). For minors, most states require them to produce consent from their parents/ guardians or a court of law in addition to their identification documents. There is also a minimum age stipulated for a person to enter into marriage. The least is 15 years. Some states waive the need to produce written consent from the mentioned parties if the minor is pregnant or with a child already. In some states like Denver, a marriage license does not constitute valid identification.

Proof of Residency

Where the state requires both or one of the parties to be a resident of that state, then there should be proof indicating so. However, these days in the United States, you will find as long as one is a citizen they can obtain a license from any state. The only limitation that could be in place is that one must wed in the county they obtained the license from.


There are fees chargeable to obtain a Marriage license. These too vary from area to area and range from $10 to $130. Most states require the fees to be paid in exact cash when applying for the Marriage license. Non-residents may be charged a higher fee than what is chargeable to residents.

Period of Waiting

It is not unusual to not access a Marriage license immediately after application. The period of waiting is not only applicable to the time before getting the license but also after, before conducting the wedding. This wait time is up to 6 days to collect the license and 1-3 days before the wedding. In some cases, residency status influences this so that the period of waiting is a bit longer for non-residents as compared to residents. This waiting period is sometimes justified so that public notice of your wedding application is posted to see if there is anyone who will come forward to oppose it for legal reasons.


In the past, some states required both parties to carry out blood tests as part of the procedure to obtain a Marriage license. These tests were mostly blood tests for sickle cell anemia, rubella and venereal diseases. However, today, this is not a requirement in most states. Information on the importance of carrying out such tests and where to get them from is made available in most county offices.

Marriage License vs. Marriage Certificate

A Marriage license is different from a Marriage certificate. First, a Marriage license has to be issued before marriage happens. You can compare it to a marriage application. A Marriage license can be waived during the waiting period or even after the issue if any of the parties have valid reasons to not proceed with the marriage. This has no legal consequences. On the other hand, a Marriage certificate is issued after marriage. A civil marriage certificate is proof of a marriage and has legal consequences if annulled. A religious marriage certificate is considered commemorative in most states.

In most cases, a Marriage license precedes a wedding, then after the wedding, the officiant presents it to the issuing office for official filing in the records that a marriage has been registered. The newlyweds then get a Marriage certificate in return. A marriage certificate is a legal proof of marriage and should be kept safely. It is used for immigration benefits e.g. obtaining a visa, used when getting a work permit, to change a name, for child custody, etc.

Marriage licenses and certified marriage certificates are often confused with religious marriage certificates. Check out this 2-minute guide from the NameChangeExpert to ascertain that you are getting the right documents that you need.

Other factors to consider before Obtaining a Marriage License

Premarital counseling/education

This is not a mandatory requirement. However, in a bid to encourage couples to take up premarital education programs some states issue a discount on the marriage license fee to couples who have completed such programs.

Same-sex Marriage

In the U. S before the landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, the discretion of whether to permit same-sex marriages was on state laws. However, now all states do not restrict same-sex marriages. Outside of the U.S, it would be important to check if the area allows for this so as it is not an impediment to acquiring a Marriage license.

Proxy Marriage

This is when one party or both parties are not present during the wedding ceremony but instead, have appointed other people to represent them during the wedding. Some states allow for one proxy for example in the case of military personnel in deployment elsewhere or in the case of imprisoned parties. However, this is not in all cases.  A couple intending to use this route needs to find out more information before going ahead with their wedding plans.

The only place in the United States where you can be married by double-proxy is in Montana. Check out this short video documentary by NBC Left Field to learn how this process works and whether you are eligible to be married this way.

Common-law Marriage

Common law marriages are a form of domestic partner agreement between two people that does not require a Marriage license. Instead, the parties are only required to fill in an affidavit to act as proof of the marriage. Not all states permit common-law marriages.

Cousin Marriage

If the parties intending to get into marriage are cousins, they should check in with the state laws of the state in which they want to get married if they allow marriage between cousins.

Covenant Marriage

Covenant marriages do not allow for divorce unless for very grave reasons such as abuse or adultery. Not all states allow covenant marriages. A couple geared towards a covenant marriage needs to find out if this is allowed in the state they intend to wed from because then they need to state in their Marriage license alternative ways to resolve their issues other than divorce. If you are interested in entering this special type of marriage with your spouse, check out this 7-minute video by Dan Lieberman detailing the account of a couple who applied for a covenant marriage and its implications.

What is the validity of a Marriage license?

The validity of a Marriage license varies from state to state. This ranges between 30 days to one year after the date of issue. However, you should not worry if you have obtained a Marriage License and the time period lapses, you can always renew.

Are there instances when a Marriage license is not required?

Yes. As mentioned earlier on in this guide some jurisdictions may not require one to have a marriage license before a marriage. For example, some areas allow cohabitation and recognize it as a union. Also, some other areas allow common-law marriages which are a form of domestic partner agreement between two people. These two instances do not need a Marriage license.

Marriage License for Foreigners

A Marriage license can be issued to a party who is a foreigner. They however need to consult with their home country laws with regards to the same to make sure they align and if the marriage will be recognized in their country. In the U.S, a non-resident needs to have their required documents translated if they are in a foreign language.

It is important to note that marriage overseas is not an automatic gateway to obtaining citizenship in that country. If this is the goal, it can be of help consulting with a marriage attorney.

Closing Thoughts

Different areas will require different requirements when issuing a Marriage license. Some of these may keep on changing due to updates from time to time. It is therefore important to enquire beforehand on the specifics required from you, the timelines and any inhibitions that could ruin your big day. This article guide is just an overview of what to expect when obtaining a marriage license. We have attached the Marriage License Application form from Los Angeles County, California as a sample.

In most cases, a Marriage license is what becomes a Marriage certificate. This is after a wedding has happened, the license signed by the couple marrying, wedding officiant, witnesses and then presented to the county office for filing in the records and stamped with the state’s seal. To recap this guide, check out this 2-minute summation through HowCast.

Even though one can only wed in the state in which the Marriage license has been issued, the marriage is recognized in all other jurisdictions. The restriction is only to make it easier for record-keeping.

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