The Basics of Obtaining a Marriage License

Groom signing marriage license

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Obtaining a marriage license is required before your wedding, with the specifics depending on where you are getting married. Once you decide where you want to get married, you need to fill out a marriage license application for a marriage license. After your wedding, it is the responsibility of the person who performed your wedding ceremony to make sure the license is recorded with the county where you were married. Generally, a few weeks after your wedding, you will receive your marriage certificate in the mail.

Note that state, county, and country marriage license requirements often change. Verify all information with your local marriage license office or county clerk before making any wedding or travel plans.

When to Get a Marriage License

Don't wait until the last minute to apply for your marriage license. If possible, get your marriage license about a month before your scheduled wedding date. You may be able to download the application or even fill it out online and then present yourselves at the license office. You will need to go together to obtain the license, so put this on your schedule and make sure you bring everything you need.

Waiting Period

More and more states in the United States are not requiring a waiting period between obtaining your marriage license and being able to have your wedding ceremony. However, this requirement still exists in some areas.

License Expiration

Most marriage licenses are valid for between 30 and 60 days after they are issued. This means you have a short window of time in which to get married. If you don't have your wedding within the required time frame, you will have to apply for another marriage license and pay the fee again.

Where to Get the License

In most locales, you don't have to be a resident of the state, but you may have to obtain the license in the county where the ceremony will be performed or in the county where you live. In other states, the license obtained in one county is valid for any place in the state.

Marriage License Fees

The cost for obtaining a marriage license varies considerably from locale to locale. It is common that they will only accept cash, so you should check with the jurisdiction and come prepared. Some areas will give a discount if you can show evidence that you had premarital education or counseling.

Paperwork Needed

Be sure you arrive at the license office with the documentation you will need.

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests and physical exams are generally a thing of the past. Montana requires a rubella test for women under the age of 50.
  • ID Requirements: If you have a valid driver's license and know your Social Security number, you should be okay. If you are not a citizen of the country where you want to get married, you should have your birth certificate translated and certified. You should also be able to show your passport.
  • Previous Marriages: If you've been married before, you will need to show certified documentation as to how the marriage ended such as a death certificate or a final divorce decree. Some locales have a waiting period before someone who was recently divorced can get married again.

Eligibility Requirements

Will you be turned away when you apply for a license? Be sure to check these items if they may apply:

Age Requirement

Although it isn't what teenagers want to hear, getting married without parental permission if you are under the age of 18 is difficult in most U.S. states as well as most countries in the world.

Cousin Marriages

If you are closely related to your intended spouse you will need to check the laws of the state where you are to be married. You will be fine if you are second cousins or more distantly related. If you are first cousins there are prohibitions or restrictions in over half of the states of the U.S. Quite a few other countries do allow cousin marriages.

Same-Sex Marriages

Same-sex marriage became legal nationwide in the United States on June 26, 2015. This reversed state amendments that prohibited it. Scattered incidents of county clerks refusing licenses to same-sex couples may occur, but that is in defiance of the law. Same-sex marriages may not be allowed in some other countries.

Proxy Marriages

Most U.S. states and countries do not allow proxy marriages, where someone stands in for the bride or groom. Those that do allow marriage by proxy require a lot of hoops for you to jump through. Often they are reserved for deployed members of the Armed Forces.

Common-Law Marriages

Most U.S. states do not recognize common-law marriages, in which no license is obtained, for their residents. The wrinkle is that you could have a common law marriage established in another state, which will be recognized as valid in other states. You may have to dissolve a common law marriage before getting a license to marry another person.


Once you have a license, you will need an officiant who is authorized to perform your wedding ceremony. Officiants, friends, or relatives planning on performing a wedding ceremony should check the state and country laws before saying yes to being the celebrant at a wedding.