Making It Legal

There’s no way around it other than keeping things unofficial… every state in the U.S. requires that couples obtain a marriage license before their wedding vows will mean anything in the government’s eyes. Frankly, applying for a marriage license is one of the more boring items on the wedding planning to-do list, but since it’s such a vital one I feel we must address it here for the sake of completeness. While I wish it were as engaging as sampling wedding cakes or shopping for a wedding dress, it just isn’t. On the the other hand, a quick trip to the county clerk’s office shouldn’t be stressful or too much of a pain in the butt if you go prepared.

applying for a marriage license

Obviously every state will have its individual rules where applying for a marriage license is concerned, so I’m not going to try to cover every states’ particulars here. For that, you should call the clerk’s office since I’d say about 99% of the sources I’ve found for state-by-state marriage license info have been out of date or just plain incorrect. What follows here is a rough guideline for those who are just starting to think about applying for a marriage license.

Who, What, Where?
You and your spouse-to-be will proceed to the county clerk or clerk of the court office together, hopefully with all of the proper documentation. At the very least, you’ll need some form of ID, usually a driver’s license, birth certificate, military ID, or passport, though states’ requirements can vary. Non-citizens may have to present more than one form of ID. There’s going to be an application fee, and some county clerks still only accept cash and money orders or personal checks. Oh, and you’ll want to know three things: your social security number (which all adults really should have memorized), your wedding date, and where you’re planning to marry.

Having a Second Go At It
Have you ever been married before? Are you totally sure you’re not married even now? Just kidding! You’ll need to bring proof of divorce or annulment when applying for a marriage license, and you’ll need to know the date and place of your divorce or annulment. And if you’re a widow or widower, you may need to bring proof of that, too.

A Prick of the Finger
Don’t be surprised if the entirety of the Internet says that you and your spouse-to-be will need to get a blood test before applying for a marriage license. For example, every pertinent site I’ve found seems convinced that brides and grooms need one here in MA, but the fact is they don’t so don’t go wasting a perfectly good lancet if you happen to live in my state. Blood tests used to check for VDs (mainly syphilis), though apparently brides-to-be in Montana are still tested for Rubella immunity. Who checks for syphilis to this day? Just Mississippi and the District of Columbia.

Ask Away, Lest Ye Be Burned
Don’t take anything for granted when applying for a marriage license, and don’t assume that the requirements for your state that you found online are still valid. For all you know, that page was compiled in 1999! Good questions to ask include before you go fill out your application include: Is there a waiting period between applying and getting the marriage license and can it be waived by taking a premarital counseling course? Will the marriage license expire if not used within a set time frame? If I’m marrying on this date, when is the ideal time to apply for the marriage license? How much is the marriage license application fee and can a portion be waived by taking a premarital counseling course? Are there restrictions regarding where the license can be used?

That’s about all there is to it in most places. When The Beard and were applying for a marriage license in Florida, they didn’t care that we were non-residents or who was marrying us as long as we had our SS#s and the application fee handy.

12 Responses to “Making It Legal”

  1. La Petite Acadienne says:

    Good reminder to people about the fee. We got married in NYC, and so wanted to make sure we had all our ducks in a row beforehand. I was surprised to find out that they only accept money orders. Not cash, cheques, debit or visa. Just money orders. If I had assumed cash was fine, I would have been screwed — getting a last-minute money order in a foreign country, in which you don’t have a bank account? Yeah..that would have been fun.

  2. *Just* money orders? That’s weird! We, I think, paid either with a check or with our credit card. It might have been that I brought the checkbook, but then it turned out credit cards were just fine. I wouldn’t even know where to get a money order nowadays… convenience store?

  3. Cassie says:

    You can get money orders at most banks (I think?) and at the now-omni-present check-cashing stores. They do charge a fee for the money order (and considering that you’re already paying a fee for the license, they’ve got you coming and going, don’t they?) but it’s usually minimal.

  4. bobbie-sue says:

    Although it was a bit boring, I found that the whole engagement thing suddenly felt so REAL when I printed our license application 3 months to the day before our wedding date (in Ontario the license is only valid for 3 months).

    It must be really nice to be the clerk who hands out marriage licenses: you generally deal with happier people than the folks at the DMV!

  5. Julie says:

    The internet told us we could pay by check, but when we got to the courthouse we discovered that they only took cash. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to scrounge up $70 between the two of us.

    I was incredibly surprised by the complete lack of good, credible information about this online.

  6. If you’re getting married in Wisconsin and you’ve been divorced, you must wait six months after the divorce is final to remarry. Yes, they enforce this. Yes, they have invalidated marriages before. (Older people marrying, one dying, heirs contesting wills.) I think Wisconsin is the only state with this stupid, stupid rule. Other states might have waiting periods, but not six months.

    “Human” is not an acceptable answer for “Race” on the license application. Why it is the state’s business what one’s color is when one is getting married, I do not know. My husband to be, who is the Liberal Who Believes in A Color Blind Society, hissed, “Just answer the question!” when I started to argue about the appropriateness of my answer with the clerk, who was way nastier than the DMV lady ever was to me.

  7. Kate says:

    In the states I’ve dealt with (NY and MA), you also need to be sure you get the license from the clerk in the right county… the one you’re getting married in. Not necessarily the on you live in. Knowing where the county lines are is a big help. 🙂

    Also, in MA, there was not only a waiting period, but we had to go back and GET the license after the waiting period. They couldn’t give it to us that day, to be used in 3 days, they couldn’t mail it to us. We had to personally fetch it. During their limited business hours, of course. That was an unpleasant but fortunately accomodateable surprise at the clerk’s office.

  8. @Julie We had a similar experience in an opposite way, being assured that checks would be necessary, if I recall correctly. Glad you could get the cash! Having to go find a bank or ATM would have been really irritating.

    @class factotum Oh man, mean marriage bureau clerks? That’s bunk. All the nice clerks should automatically end up handing out the marriage license applications. And really, how old fashioned… that waiting period smacks of “Divorce is bad, you should keep trying to work it out. You might get remarried, wouldn’t that be sweet?”

  9. Kate and NTB, not only do you have to wait 6 months after the divorce is final (I met my husband three years after he left his wife, so I am not a homewrecker, thankyouverymuch, but yeah he was not exactly on the ball finalizing that divorce because she wanted to stay on his health insurance oh don’t even get me started), but you have to apply for your license at least 8 days before you marry because WHAT IF YOU ARE MAKING A MISTAKE?

    Apply 8 days before, then return 8 days later to the courthouse where there is no free parking to pick it up. Oh sure they’ll mail it. For $20. No, you cannot give them a stamped, addressed envelope. Silly taxpayer. But you may give them $20. Or return in 8 days. Do you want to get married? Or not? We get paid no matter what you do and our retirement and health plans are funded. Are yours? Take your time. Until 4:00. That’s when we close.

  10. If you are a Non-Florida resident and want to get married in Florida, but cannot get to the marriage license bureau when they are open (or you just want to get your marriage license taken care of before you arrive), you can get your Florida Marriage License by Mail.

  11. That’s a cute marriage license. It almost makes me want to get one!

  12. CVS says:

    It used to be in California you needed to put your parents full name on the license. Since I got married before cell phones were common I ummm… misspelled my mom’s middle name. Got a lot of flack for that, but we had to get it a certain number of days before the wedding, weren’t in the same county and left it for the last minute.