Obtaining a Marriage License

marriage license

If you're planning an upcoming wedding, getting a marriage license is just as important as planning your ceremony or choosing your wedding ring. In fact, all states require a marriage license before the actual wedding ceremony takes place; otherwise the ceremony does not create a binding legal relationship. The fees and procedures for obtaining this document will vary from location to location, so it's important to check with your state and county before you get too far in your wedding planning.

How to Obtain a Marriage License

In order to obtain a marriage license and make your marriage legally official, you'll need to go through the process that applies to your location. Since legal authority for this issue rests with the state, there can be quite a bit of variation. No matter where you live, you'll need to follow these steps.

1. Call Your County or City Clerk

Look up the phone number for you county or city clerk and give that office a call. You should do this several months before the wedding. Be sure to ask the following questions if they apply to you:

  • What is the waiting period?
  • Do you need a blood test or physical exam?
  • How much does the license cost?
  • What kind of documentation is required to prove identity, residence, and current marital status?
  • What is the minimum age for a marriage license? In most cases, the minimum age without parental consent is 18.
  • What are the state requirements for mental capacity? Both parties must fully understand the legal and emotional commitment they are about to make. Judgment impaired by drugs, illness, or alcohol can be grounds for the denial.
  • Are same sex couples allowed to marry in your state? According to FreedomtoMarry.org, same sex couples can currently or will soon be able to obtain a license to marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Washington, and Washington DC.

2. Get Blood Tests and Exams if Required

Although most states no longer require blood tests before they issue a marriage license, there are a few places where you'll need to get tested. These tests check for sexually transmitted diseases, genetic conditions, and rubella. According to USMarriageLaws.com, the following states require a blood test:

  • Connecticut
  • Indiana
  • Mississippi
  • Montana

The state cannot legally prevent a person with a communicable disease like HIV to marry. However, certain states can and do require that a spouse be informed of potentially harmful and contagious medical conditions before the license is issued.

3. Gather Your Documentation

Depending on the requirements in your state, you may need documentation to prove you are who you say you are and live in the county or state you're claiming. You will also likely need to prove that you are divorced if you have been previously married. These are some of the documents you may need to gather:

  • Passport
  • Driver's license
  • Birth certificate
  • Green card
  • Divorce decree

4. Fill Out the Application

Your state or country will have its own application for a marriage license. You can find these application on the county website, or you can go to the county courthouse or other government building to pick one up. It's easiest to fill out the application ahead of time, but if you have questions, leave those sections blank. You'll also need to wait to sign the application.

5. Go Together to Apply for the License

In most cases, you and your fiancé will both have to appear together at the country courthouse or office to apply for the license. If you are from out of state, there may be an exception involving a notary public. At the office, you will present your documentation, your application for the license, and any blood test or medical records required. You'll sign the application in front of the county clerk.

6. Pay the Fee

You'll need to bring a fee with you when you apply for the license. This varies from state to state, but it is typically between $25 and $50. After you pay the fee and sign your names, the application is complete.

Specific State Requirements

marriage license waiting

Since each state has its own requirements and those requirements change all the time, it's important to contact your county clerk directly to find out what you need to do to get your marriage license. For general reference, however, it can be helpful to see how the process works in some of the bigger states.

New York

According to the New York Department of Health, these are the basic rules for obtaining a license in that state:

  • No blood tests or exams are required for marriage.
  • Same sex couples may marry in this state.
  • Both people must be 18 years or older or have their parents' consent.
  • You must prove your age and identity using multiple documents. This can include a passport, birth certificate, driver's license, and other documents.
  • You must not be closely related by blood.
  • If previously married, you must prove that you are legally divorced.
  • The license will cost $40.
  • There is a 24-hour waiting period from the time you receive your license until you get married.

California

According to the California Department of Public Health, these are the guidelines for applying for a marriage license in that state:

  • No blood tests or exams are required for marriage.
  • Same sex couples may not marry in this state.
  • Both people must be 18 years or older or have their parents' consent.
  • You must prove your age and identity using multiple documents. This can include a passport, birth certificate, driver's license, and other documents.
  • You must not be closely related by blood.
  • If previously married, you must prove that you are legally divorced.
  • The license will cost $50 to $80.
  • There is no waiting period from the time you receive your license until you get married.

Nevada

Nevada's marriage requirement vary by county, but Las Vegas is a popular wedding destination in this state. Because there is no waiting period or blood test for a marriage license and many clerk's offices are open late into the night, Las Vegas attracts couple from all over the world. It's a great place to tie the knot. However, according to the Clark County Clerk's Office, you'll need to understand the following in order to get married in Las Vegas:

  • No blood tests or exams are required for marriage.
  • Same sex couples may not marry in this state.
  • Both people must be 18 years or older or have their parents' consent.
  • You must prove your age and identity using multiple documents. This can include a passport, birth certificate, driver's license, and other documents.
  • You must not be closely related by blood.
  • If previously married, you must prove that you are legally divorced.
  • The license will cost $60.
  • There is no waiting period from the time you receive your license until you get married.

Can You Marry Without a Marriage License?

Depending on your definition of marriage, it is possible to get married without a license. Many religious officials will not marry two parties or present a marriage certificate without the legal documentation of a license. If you choose to perform a ceremony outside of the law and traditional religious strictures, no one has the right to question the validity of your commitment. However, your legal status as a married couple may be called into question when it comes to joint property and custody issues. In the event of separation, having a legal marriage license may influence the outcome of divorce proceedings.

Check with Your County and State

No matter where you live, obtaining a marriage license is mostly about doing your homework and getting your documents in order before the application. It's important to understand the requirements for your state and county, since the waiting period and the process itself can take some time.

Obtaining a Marriage License