How to Get a Marriage License

Everything you need to know to make your union official on paper.

Bride signing marriage license
PHOTO BY LENS CAP PRODUCTIONS

Amid the blur of organizing your wedding and honeymoon plans, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that you actually have to get married on paper. A marriage license is basically your permit for eternal love—the legal confirmation that you and your partner are free and eligible to marry one another. Sure, it’s paperwork, but it’s still exciting (not to mention necessary).

So where do you even start? The Internet will likely be your best bet here. Most, if not all, states have a government website with ample information on what materials and documents are required and the office’s contact information.

Once you know in which municipality (city, district and county) your nuptials will take place, you’ll need to locate where to obtain the license. It might be city hall, the city or town clerk’s office, or the marriage license bureau in the county where you plan to wed. For example, in Connecticut, marriage licenses are issued by the municipal clerk’s office in the town where you’ll be married; whereas, in Iowa, couples may apply at any county registrar or recorder’s office. In some states, like New Jersey, you can simply download a marriage license brochure and the license itself to be filled out by you and your spouse-to-be.

Other than the physical paperwork, it’s important to be wary of timing. Some states require a several day waiting period between granting the license and your nuptials taking place. Also, most marriage licenses are only valid for a window of time—anywhere between 10 days and a year—during which you must have the ceremony, sign the license (together with your officiant) and file for a certified license and marriage certificate.

Requirements do vary by state, but they all want to confirm the basics: that you have proper identification, that you’re not currently married to anyone else (if you previously were, you need proper divorce or widowhood papers) and that you’re of legal age to marry. A good checklist of necessities includes:

  • Birth certificates
  • Parental consent if under age (usually under 18); you may also need court consent in this case
  • Photo identification (driver’s license, state ID card, passport or birth certificate)
  • Social Security number
  • Proof of citizenship and/or residence
  • Divorce decree if divorced
  • Death certificate if widowed

New Jersey

  • Fee charged
  • Waiting period: 72 hours
  • Issued by any city clerk’s office; both parties must appear in person, with a witness over the age of 18
  • License valid for 30 days after it is picked up.

New York City, New York

  • Fee charged
  • Waiting period: 24 hours
  • Issued by city clerk’s office; both parties must appear in person at one of the five borough offices
  • License valid for 60 days
  • Click here for marriage license info from New York’s Office of the City Clerk website

Always check with the town clerk or registrar for specific requirement.

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