Your Guide to Marriage Licenses and Marriage Certificates, and Why They’re Important!

Jun 10, 2022 | New York Prenuptial Agreements, Prenuptial Agreements, Relationships, Wedding

Let’s face it– most of us have envisioned our wedding day from the moment of the proposal, and in many cases way before, but most of us didn’t think about all the paper filing and legwork associated with making it official.

I mean, do romance and state administration go hand in hand?

We don’t see the princesses signing papers at the end of the Disney film, but marriage is a legal contract and binding agreement that requires forethought and document processing in order to reap the benefits associated with your union.

While you’re processing these essential documents, it may also be prudent to broach the topic of a prenup with your bride-to-be or future hubby.

Marriage Licenses

A marriage license is a document that recognizes a couple’s legal ability to get married in the county and state in which it is filed.

Couples will need to acquire the marriage license in advance of the ceremony so that it is available on the big day for all the required parties to sign.

There are so many things to stay on top of during wedding planning, but luckily this lackluster but necessary process only contains a few simple steps:

Know Your When and Where

Marriage licenses generally must be applied for in the county where you’ll officially tie the knot, so the first step is to lock down that date with the wedding venue of your choosing.

You by no means need to rush right over to the county clerk’s office and get the ball rolling right after you sign the contract with the venue, and in most cases it is not feasible to do so. Marriage licenses expire, sometimes within 90 days of your filing, so you’ll need to find out the specifics of the county and go with an appropriate amount of time to spare.

Keep in mind we’re dealing with local and state government offices here. Have you ever known the DMV to push things through right away? 

Marriage licenses may be handed to you on the day of your filing in some places, but often involves a few days of processing before it is available to be picked up or, worse yet, sent in the mail to linger for another few days before it is safely in your possession. Some states also require 24-72 hours from your filing date before the marriage can take place.

Our advice? Give yourself approximately one week minimum between filing for the license and the date of your wedding. You want to be hoping the weather holds out on the big day, not hoping the mailman comes in time.

Visit County Clerk

So you’re on the books and the big day is coming faster than you ever would have imagined. Make an appointment to visit the county clerk’s office, and be sure to bring the following.

Proof of ID

Your driver’s license or passport should do just fine, but some states may require a birth certificate as well. Be sure to review prior to your appointment.

A Witness

Not all states require a witness present during the filing, so be sure to review ahead of time to be prepared. Worst case scenario, bring a family member or friend who you’ve known for six months minimum along for the riveting day at the county clerk’s office.

Your Parents’ Information

You will need to know their full birth names, birthdates, birth states, and the dates of passing if they are deceased. You are welcome to bring them as witnesses as well for a two birds, one stone approach.

Certificate of Divorce or Death Certificate of Former Spouse

This won’t be applicable for everyone, but it is often overlooked for previously married individuals. In order to legally remarry, it is imperative to include these documents.

Processing Fee

Did you ever know them to process anything without a mandatory fee? Compared to your other wedding expenses, the fee should be nominal and usually falls between $10 and $150, payable by cash or check. Again, check the specifics for your county prior to the visit to avoid curveballs.

Your New Legal Surname

For traditional future brides or progressive future hubbies, now’s the time where you can officially jot down your new legal surname. This might involve assuming your future spouse’s surname or hyphenating. While it is not a requirement, it is best to do this now as it will cost you more fees and hassle later on if you decide to do things after the fact.

Get All Applicable Signatures

Now that your date with the county clerk has concluded, they’ll either hand you your license or mail it out so that it is ready for your wedding day. You’ll need this document handy so that all appropriate parties may sign following your nuptials.

Here’s who will need to sign:

  • The couple (you)
  • The officiant
  • Two witnesses

These requirements vary from state to state, as some states dispense the need for an officiant by allowing the couple to “self-unite” or “self-solemnize.” In addition, some states require only one witness to sign.

Once all required signatures are collected, the officiant assumes the responsibility of turning in the marriage license to the county. They may accomplish this by mail or bringing the completed document in-person.

After that, you may heave a sigh of relief that all your planning and all the paper-processing has now come to an end.

Your marriage certificate, which signifies that you are now legally married, will be either sent by mail or be made available for you to pick up in person at your convenience. Congratulations!

Why It Matters

For the pure romantics, love is all that matters and the rest is confetti, but for the pragmatists and, more importantly, the governing agencies of the United States, it’s nothing if it’s not official. Luckily, there are a wealth of benefits associated with marriage, providing incentive for the idealists and dreamers to process the procedure properly.

In a country where health insurance is absolutely essential to mitigate massive medical costs, married individuals are entitled to insurance benefits through their spouse’s plan, whether it’s independently purchased or offered through their employer. They also may enjoy their spouse’s Social Security, Medicaid, disability benefits, Worker’s Comp, and retirement.

The IRS provides benefits to married couples as well, allowing them to file taxes jointly and enjoy a lower tax rate, a higher standard deduction, income tax credits, estate tax advantages, spousal IRA contributions, and combined federal estate and gift tax limits. Leveraging these tax benefits maximizes your savings potential and allows couples to achieve financial freedom faster.

Having a legally recognized marriage also allows couples to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner, assume succession of their estate and property, and become responsible for after death proceedings including burial plans in the absence of a will.

For non-citizens, a legal marriage is integral to visa approvals as well.

Til Death (or Divorce) Do Us Part

Once you make your vows and receive the certified marriage license, you are 100% officially and legally recognized as married, and may begin to enjoy all the aforementioned tangible benefits of the union in addition to the other intangible benefits you presumably have enjoyed all along.

If you don’t get to enjoy your happily ever after though, and almost 50% of married couples don’t, you may find yourself grateful for having put together a prenup prior to getting hitched, or potentially wishing you had.

HelloPrenup makes creating a comprehensive prenuptial agreement collaborative, fast, and affordable for all couples. Be sure to check our our Ultimate Prenup Guide for more information today!

You are writing your life story. Get on the same page with a prenup. For love that lasts a lifetime, preparation is key. Safeguard your shared tomorrows, starting today.
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