Getting down on one knee and planning an entire proposal may be less stressful than figuring out the legal process of getting married! Marriage licenses, marriage certificates, officiants, paperwork, blood tests (?!?), there’s so much information floating around out there; what is actually needed to get married legally? Let’s talk about marriage licenses, what they are, how to get one, the requirements, and some frequently asked questions.
Overview of marriage licenses
Before we dive into the specifics of different types of marriage licenses, let’s take a moment to understand what a marriage license is and why it’s important. A marriage license is a document that allows a couple to get married. In the United States, couples must obtain a marriage license before they can legally marry.
Each state has its own rules on how to obtain a marriage license, what kind you may get, and the requirements. For example, some states mandate a waiting period after applying for a marriage license, and others do not.
The expiration date of the marriage license
Another important thing to understand is the expiration date of the marriage license. Typically, a marriage license is only valid for about 60 days. You must get married during this timeframe in order to have a valid marriage. The expiration period of 60 days may vary depending on your state.
So, what this means is if your state has a 60-day license expiration period, you must file for a marriage license within the 60-day window of your wedding day. If you file for your marriage license 70 days before the wedding, your marriage will not be valid.
Filing the marriage license after the wedding
What happens after you get married? What do you do with the marriage license? Well, again, this depends on your state, but many states will require the person who officiated the wedding to return the marriage license to the county clerk or other government office. Until this happens, there is no marriage. It must be filed!
Each state will have its own time frame requirement for when to file the marriage license after the wedding. One state may say you need to file the license within ten days after the wedding, while others may say 30 days.
Marriage license vs. marriage certificates
You may hear the term “marriage certificate” and get confused–do I need both? What’s the difference? Marriage licenses are what you need before getting married. A marriage certificate is what you get to prove you are married after getting married.
Types of Marriage Licenses
There are several types of marriage licenses available, and the type you’ll need to obtain depends on your specific situation and if it’s available in your state. Let’s take a closer look at each type of license:
Regular Marriage License
A regular marriage license is the most common type of marriage license. To obtain a regular marriage license, the requirements generally vary slightly from state to state. However, most states require that both parties appear in person at the county clerk’s office and provide identification, like a passport or driver’s license. They’ll also need to pay a fee, which varies by state.
Confidential Marriage License
A confidential marriage license is similar to a regular marriage license, but it’s only available in certain states, including California. With a confidential marriage license, the couple can get married without any witnesses present. Additionally, the marriage records are not made public, so they’re only accessible to the couple and certain authorized individuals. To obtain a confidential marriage license, generally, both parties must appear in person at the county clerk’s office and provide identification.
Proxy Marriage License
A proxy marriage license is used when one of the parties can’t be present at the wedding. This type of license is only available in a few states, including Montana and Texas. With a proxy marriage, one party is typically represented by a designated proxy, who stands in for the absent party during the ceremony. To obtain a proxy marriage license, typically, the absent party must provide a power of attorney, which authorizes the proxy to act on their behalf.
Covenant Marriage License
A covenant marriage license is a type of marriage license that’s only available in a few states, including Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana. It is a religious type of marriage license that only allows for certain reasons for divorce, such as adultery. With a covenant marriage, the couple also usually agrees to certain requirements, such as premarital counseling. To obtain a covenant marriage license, both parties must agree to the requirements and sign a declaration of intent.
Requirements for Obtaining a Marriage License
Now that we’ve explored the different types of marriage licenses available let’s take a closer look at the requirements for obtaining one. While the requirements can vary by state, there are a few common requirements that most states share:
They say all good things in life are free…except for marriage licenses! The love is free, but the legal requirements are not. Many states will require a fee in order to obtain a marriage license. The fee can vary from state to state and even county to county.
Sometimes, states will require one of you or both of you to be residents of the county you are applying for the marriage license in. Other states do not have this requirement, so make sure to look up what your state requires!
In most states, couples are required to be at least 18 years old to get a marriage license (without consent from a parent). If either party is under 18, they’ll typically need to obtain parental consent and may also need a court order.
To obtain a marriage license, both parties will typically need to provide identification, such as a driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate.
In some states, there’s a waiting period between obtaining a marriage license and getting married. This waiting period can range from a few hours to several days.
While blood tests were once a common requirement for obtaining a marriage license, they’re no longer required in most states.
Divorce or Annulment Decree
If either party has been previously married, they’ll typically need to show proof of divorce from their previous partner, such as with a divorce decree.
Signing and filing the marriage license
Don’t forget that you have to bring your marriage license to the wedding day and have your officiant sign it, and bring it back to the county clerk’s office on your behalf.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about marriage licenses
Still have questions? Look no further:
Q: Do any states NOT require a marriage license to get married?
A: Yes, states like Alabama do not require a marriage license to get married! Alabama recently passed this law in 2019!
Q: How long does it take to obtain a marriage license?
A: The time it takes to obtain a marriage license can vary by state, but it’s typically a quick process that can be completed in one visit to the county clerk’s office. However, don’t forget about the potential waiting period. Some states have a waiting period, so even though you may get your marriage license application completed quickly, you might still have to wait a few days in order for it to be valid.
Q: Can we get married immediately after obtaining a marriage license?
A: It depends on the state. Some states have a waiting period between obtaining a license and getting married, while others allow couples to get married immediately.
Q: Can we obtain a marriage license if we’re already married?
A: No, you cannot obtain a marriage license if you’re already married. You would need to obtain a divorce or annulment before getting married again.
Q: Can we obtain a marriage license if we’re of the same sex?
A: Yes, same-sex couples have the same rights to obtain a marriage license as opposite-sex couples in all states.
Q: Do I need a blood test to get married?
A: No, that is an outdated requirement that is no longer required in any state. This used to be a requirement for marriage licenses to avoid the spread of diseases, such as syphilis. It is no longer required.
Q: When do I have to file the marriage license after getting married?
A: Each state has its own requirements; some states mandate that the marriage license to be returned to the county clerk within a 10-day window after the wedding, and others may be a 30-day window; it just depends.
In conclusion, obtaining a marriage license is arguably THE most important step in the marriage process. Most states will not allow you to have a valid marriage without it! With several types of licenses available and varying requirements by state, it’s important to do your research and ensure you’re obtaining the correct license for your situation and following your state’s requirements. Remember to plan ahead, bring proper identification, and be aware of any expiration dates, waiting periods, or other requirements in your state.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]