Family Law

Marriage Licenses

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Wedding gown: Check. Tuxedo: Check. Wedding rings: Check. Marriage license: What?

You've made all of the arrangements, checked the seating plan to make sure Aunt Sue isn't sitting next to Cousin Joe, then a week before the wedding you realize you need a marriage license. They don't show that part of the preparations on the wedding shows!

Howver, the marriage license is probably the single most important part of your wedding preparations. You can't get married without it. Getting a license varies depends on where you live. Make sure you know these requirements, what the limitations are, and any special situations you might run into early so your marriage can happen as planned.

Requirements for Obtaining a Marriage License

The application for a marriage license varies from state to state and even vary in different counties in the same state. Generally, you obtain a marriage license from your County clerk's office. Be sure you contact your County clerk's office or local issuing agency for specific instructions.

Common requirements include:

  • Identification. Types that may be requested include birth certificates and photo identification (such as a valid driver's license).
  • Blood tests. Blood tests aren't as common a requirement as they used to be. If one is needed, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to have the tests done and the results completed before you need to obtain the license.
  • Proof of vaccinations. These are against certain diseases, and tests for venereal diseases and tests for rubella are still required in a few states.
  • Divorce decrees. Get your divorce paperwork from any former marriages to prove you aren't currently married.
  • Death certificate(s). This is to prove that you're widowed and not currently married.
  • Both you and your spouse-to-be. There may be some rare exceptions, but usually you both need to be there.
  • Checkbook or cash. Payment of the fee to obtain your license.
  • Parental consent if you're underage. This typically means under 18 years of age but may vary by state. Check the age requirement in your area.

Limitations of Your Marriage License

There are some limitation to the marriage license aside from allowing you to marry. These concern timing issues and the ability of your selected official, a clergy person or judge, for example, to legally marry you.

Some states have a waiting period between issuing the license and the time the ceremony may be performed. The timeframe is usually one to five days, varying by where you live.

This is considered a cooling off period to give both of you a chance to change their minds. Other states, like Nevada, have no such waiting period requirement. This is especially crucial to keep in mind when the bride and the groom live in different states. If your state has a three day waiting period and the groom flies in two days before the wedding you'll be out of luck.

Some states issue licenses at the time of application while others have a waiting period between the application and the issuance. Make sure you know the rules for your state so that you don't apply too late to receive your license before the wedding date.

Your wedding license is good for a certain number of days, usually 90 or less. After that time it expires and you'll have to get another one. Make sure that you time your application so your license don't expire before your planned wedding date.

Marriage Official

Make sure that you have someone who can legally marry you in your state. The person who marries you must sign the certificate and return it to the County clerk's office for recording. This could be a clergy person, such as a priest or rabbi, a judge or commissioner, or a tribe elder if either the bride or groom is a Native American.

Some states will give special permission for another person to perform the ceremony for a specific couple on a specific day. Check with your local office to see if this is a possibility if you have a friend or relative whom you would like to perform the ceremony who otherwise would not be able to perform a wedding. Also, some states have much stricter laws and require clergy persons to be specifically licensed to perform weddings. Confirm that your clergy person can do the job.

Special Marriage License Needs

If you're planning to be married in a state other than the one where you live, check with the county clerk or local authorities both where you live and in the location of your wedding to find out which office should issue your license. Some states may have a residency requirement for issuing a marriage license.

Destination weddings are growing increasingly popular with couples tying the knot all over the world. The best thing to do is contact a professional wedding planner where you plan to be married and enlist that person's help with the wedding details.

Generally speaking, a marriage performed in another country is valid in the United States as long as it was valid in the state or country in which it was performed. It is a good idea to verify this with your contacts at the wedding site as well as with your home county's clerk.

With a little planning, it might only take you and your fiancé an hour or so to get your marriage license. If your county clerk recommends setting an appointment, do so. Make sure you take all needed documentation with you and be very careful that you are obtaining the license in a timeframe allowing you to use it on your big day.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I'm getting married next week and my county clerk said it would take 10 days to get the license. Is it possible to get married without the license and then get remarried with it?
  • The person in the county clerks office denied the application for my marriage license on the grounds that I live with my fiancĂ©. Can they do that?
  • My destination wedding planner said she took care of the marriage license, but didn't. Can I sue her?
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