While the ceremony and reception are certainly the most memorable parts of a wedding day, the most important element is the signing of the marriage licence if you want the union to be legal. A marriage licence is a legal document that a couple receives before they get married. After it is signed (during or after the ceremony) and returned to the municipality by the registrar, a marriage certificate is issued. The marriage certificate proves that you are legally able to marry, and the marriage certificate proves that you have tied the knot; this document plays a major role if you are planning to change your name. Applying for a marriage licence and then a marriage certificate is a multi-step process, so planning ahead is important.
Here’s everything you need to do to get (and complete) your marriage licence and marriage certificate, step by step, as explained by an expert.
What to do if you have made a mistake on your marriage certificate?
Step 1: Set a date and venue for your wedding.
Before you can apply for a marriage licence, you need to know where and when you will be getting married. Why? Because you usually need to make your application for a marriage licence in the county where you will be getting married. Also, marriage licences expire. For example, some expire after 90 days. If you are planning your wedding a year in advance, you must wait until you have met the deadline before applying for a marriage licence. Otherwise, you will have to reapply, and that is the last thing a couple wants to do when they are busy planning their wedding.
On the other hand, you can’t wait until the last minute either. Hanes: “It usually takes a few days from the time you apply to the time you receive your licence. You should apply at least a week before the wedding to make sure everything works out. In Texas, for example, you have to wait at least 72 hours before you can actually get married after you apply for the marriage licence, so if you put it off until two or three days before the wedding, the licence would not be valid.
Once you know when you will be getting married, you can plan your visit to the district clerk.
Step 2: Visit the district clerk and bring all the documents with you.
The easiest way is to apply for the marriage certificate at the district clerk’s office. “If all the documents are in order, you can plan to spend about an hour there,” says Hanes. You can even try to make an appointment beforehand so you don’t have to wait too long.
Below is everything you need to prepare for your visit to the district clerk:
Driving licence, passport and/or birth certificate.
Make sure you don’t come empty-handed, because you will both need to prove your identity. The requirements vary from province to province. Therefore, find out exactly what is required before going to the registry office. As a rule, however, you will need a driving licence or a passport, but possibly also a birth certificate.
Some states even require a witness to apply for a marriage licence. So ask a family member or friend (who has known you for at least six months) to accompany you. Ask them to accompany you a few days in advance to make sure they have time.
Information about your parents
You will also need to know some information about your parents. You will probably need the full birth names, dates of birth, states of birth and, if applicable, dates of death of both your parents.
If a second marriage: divorce certificate or death certificate.
If it is not your first marriage, you will also need to bring the divorce certificate or death certificate to prove that you can legally remarry. “It is common for people who are already married to forget to bring the official documentation of their separation to their appointment,” says Hanes.
Parental permission (if you are under 18).
If you’re under 18, you’ll likely need permission from one or both of your parents to marry (the form of this permission varies by state, with some states requiring a court order).
Payment of the fee
There is a fee to apply for a marriage license, which ranges from $35 to $150 depending on the state and county (another expense to add to your wedding budget). “People often forget to bring cheques or cash to the appointment, and most offices don’t accept credit cards. Make sure you come with the right money,” Hanes warns.
Documents for changing your name
If you’re planning to change your name – and you’ll be doing so during your visit to the registrar’s office to apply for your marriage certificate – now is the best time to do it. While you will keep your maiden name until you get married, this will allow you to officially tell the court what your new name will be. Not only do you need to know what your official surname will be, but also your middle name. You have many options, of course: You can keep your name exactly the same. You can take your partner’s name (or vice versa). It is even possible for both of you to take on a completely new surname. If you have not yet decided whether to change your name, you can of course wait until a later date. However, if you wait, you can only change your name by officially changing your name, and for that you might want to seek the help of a name change service. So if you think about what you want to do before you apply for a marriage licence, you will save time and money later.
Once you have proven your identity, submitted the paperwork and paid the fee, you will receive a marriage licence. In some states, the marriage licence will be handed to you immediately, in others it will be sent to you by post within a few days.
Step 3: Obtain signatures from your wedding speaker and witnesses.
Now that you have your marriage license, it’s time to gather some signatures. While the requirements for signatures on the marriage license vary from state to state, in most cases the signatures of the following people are required:
Of course, the couple must be present when the marriage certificate is signed after the ceremony. It is better to get this done early, before the party gets going and the drinks are flowing. This is a detail you should not forget.
The Master of Ceremonies
The person who performed the marriage ceremony, be it a judge, a religious leader or a friend who has been ordained for the day, must also sign the licence. There will be a line where they can sign their name and state their title or ordination. But note: In a few states (Colorado, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and parts of Pennsylvania) you can also solemnise your marriage yourself, which means that not only do you not need the officiant’s signature, but you also do not need to apply for a marriage licence.
These can be your parents, your maid of honour and your best man, or other friends you nominate for this task. They must be physically present, watch the two of you sign the marriage certificate, and sign the certificate themselves. In most states, witnesses must also be over 18 years of age. You will usually need two witnesses, but in some states you may only need one. It is important to choose your witnesses before the big day and make sure they arrive on time.
Step 4: The registrar submits the completed marriage licence to the authorities.
After the ceremony, the registrar must return the marriage licence to the district clerk either by post or in person. After that, you are ready to go. Depending on where you live, either a certified copy will be mailed to you, or you will have to appear in person to pick up certified copies (in which case, be prepared for another fee).
You may wonder why you need these copies at all when everything is official. You need certified copies of your marriage certificate for a number of things. For example, you will need to submit copies of the marriage certificate to change your marital status for insurance (car, health insurance, etc.), social security (if you change your name), your credit cards, your bank accounts, and the IRS, just to name a few. “Three copies of the certified marriage certificate should be sufficient for these tasks,” says Hanes. “You can always contact your local registry office to request additional certified copies of your certificate if you need them later.”