How do I Go About Getting a Marriage License?

Mary McMahon

Getting a marriage license is a relatively simple process which is required for people who want their marriages to be legally recognized. While people can get married without a marriage license, the marriage will not be recognized as legally valid by the government, and it can create complications for the couple. Different nations have different procedures in place for getting a marriage license, which can include things like proof of religious faith or ethnic background, but as a general rule, the basics are more or less the same the world over.

A marriage officiant is licensed to perform marriages.
A marriage officiant is licensed to perform marriages.

The first step involves gathering supporting documentation. People who have been married before will need to provide a copy of a death certificate or divorce decree to show that they are legally eligible for marriage, although in nations where polygamy is legal, this is not necessary. Nations with age requirements for marriage will usually request proof of age at the time of a marriage license application, along with proof of identity. Other supporting documentation can include documents which prove residency, and documentation of a blood test to check for diseases or genetic abnormalities. Blood test requirements vary by nation, and people should check ahead if they are not sure about the requirements.

Some regions require a waiting period between getting a marriage license and performing the ceremony.
Some regions require a waiting period between getting a marriage license and performing the ceremony.

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Some regions mandate a waiting period between getting a marriage license and performing the marriage ceremony, making it a good idea to get the license at least two weeks before the planned wedding. Both partners may be required to show up to file the application, and marriage licenses are typically handled through a county clerk's office. The clerk will issue the license, and the couple will be required to sign the license along the officiant and at least one witness at the time of the wedding, before filing the license with the clerk's office so that an official document indicating that the wedding took place can be issued.

In some regions, there are residency requirements involved with getting a marriage license, and in areas where there are no residency requirements, a marriage license cannot be issued if the marriage would not be recognized in someone's state or country of residence. Some additional things to think about when filing a marriage license are laws in some conservative Muslim nations which require the father of the bride to appear in person to file and approve the license, and restrictions in some other regions which may forbid clerks from issuing marriage licenses to people of differing religious backgrounds, as is the case in Israel.

People getting a marriage license for a marriage in a location where they do not live may want to do their research ahead of time to ensure that the license will be issued, as it would be unfortunate to travel for a wedding which will not be legally valid.

A certificate of matrimony.
A certificate of matrimony.

Discussion Comments


Not too many states in the USA still require a blood test, and it's on a county-by-county basis how much documentation is required.

In the United States, most counties either have a marriage registry office, or a probate judge's office where marriage licenses are filed and obtained. It's usually a simple matter of filling out a form and swearing in front of the probate judge that the information is correct. One pays the fee and the license is issued.

The one caveat is that the couple needs to make certain the license does not have a "cooling off" period -- that is, they have to wait a certain amount of time after the license is issued before they can marry. Also, most licenses expire in 30 days or so, so the couple should get the license within that time frame.

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