How to get a marriage license: tips and tricks for the engaged and confused

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How to get a marriage license via @offbeatbride

If you're planning to get legally married (which, given last week's news, will hopefully be available to more), the most important step to research is how to get a marriage license. This can be trickier if you're getting married out-of-state, out-of-country, are a same-sex couple, or don't get the process started early enough.

No matter if you're rocking a Vegas drive-thru wedding, a destination Scottish elopement, or a surprise wedding in your own front yard, make sure you know your location's rules before embarking on your magical wedding roller coaster.

Here are the basic steps to obtaining the golden ticket to your legal marriage. Note that we aren't lawyers, so this is just a primer before you get your legal ducks in a row.

Decide where you'll be getting married

License rules vary by state and country, so bone up on the requirements wherever you're planning to get married. Find your local office after that. Look under “marriage” in your phone book's city pages or Google for your local office.

Marriage license waiting periods

Find out if there is a waiting period and for how long marriage licenses are valid.

Documents for your marriage license

Most states require birth certificates, proof of citizenship and/or residence, a driver's license or other photo ID, maybe blood test results (only a few states still require this), and parental consent if you're underage. If you are divorced or widowed, you should bring along a copy of the death certificate or divorce paperwork.

Marriage license fees

There will most likely be a fee. You'll probably need to pay it with a money order, cashier's check, or even cash only. Some areas will give a discount if you can show that you had premarital education or counseling.

How to get a marriage license via @offbeatbride

Marriage license timeframe

Most marriage licenses are valid for between 10 days and six months, which means that's how long you have to get married once you obtain it. Otherwise you'll be applying (and paying the fee) again.

Residency for marriage licenses

If you are having a destination wedding or getting married out of state, check into the requirements there. In most places, you don't have to be a resident, but you might have to get there a few days early.

Same-sex marriage licenses

Here is a list of countries and U.S. states that DO allow same-sex marriage (as of June 2015) so that you can be prepared if you're getting married away from your home state/country.

The marriage license at the wedding

Make sure someone is in charge of bringing it. After that, assign someone to return the marriage license to the county clerk's office or do it yourself. About a week later, you can purchase copies of the certified marriage certificate from the clerk's office.

Find out your specific location marriage license requirements here.

How to get a marriage license via @offbeatbride
Jacylyn and John's Vegas wedding had its rules, too! Photo by The Little White Chapel

Got a question? Ask or share your own marriage license tips in the comments!

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Comments on How to get a marriage license: tips and tricks for the engaged and confused

  1. I can’t recommend enough that you dig, dig and keep digging that extra info(or get an officiant who knows their deal) when planning a destination wedding.

    My husband and I are both Finnish natives and got married last september in NYC. What caught us by surprise was the fact that you actually need both your parents name when filing for marriage certificate. In Finland you can have only one parent listed on the civil register and I only have my mother’s data there. Thus, I don’t know my fathers name and any other details.

    The online form accepted “unknown” on the other parents fields and I only found out at the city clerks office that the data is invalid and that I really, really need to get a name. Of course that lead to a small panic and one really, really awkward phonecall to my mother.

    It was not really the end of the world, but I can imagine that the outcome could have been different if my mom did not have any name to give or would not want to do so. Obviously I could have lied on the form, but under stress etc it did not cross my mind.

  2. Totally helpful! I’m getting married in Oct and this has been a Godsend! Cheers!

  3. I was wondering if I can get the license and surprise my boyfriend with it for his birthday coming up , he’s been asking me to marry him for the longest but I always just ignore it

    • Marriage license is your first document, that you apply for as a future family. And it is the only way to receive a valid marriage certificate, which would be recognized across the country. Paperwork is boring, but only paperwork will make changes in your marital status official. It might seem like a mere formality, but this formality is quite important.

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