Are you planning on getting married soon? While most of the excitement about a wedding revolves around the ceremony and reception, it is important to keep in mind that several steps need to take place to become legally married. Obtaining a marriage license can take time, but is a requirement in all 50 states. Additionally, once you are married, you will need a copy of your marriage certificate if a spouse wants to change their legal name. The following information will help you to seamlessly navigate the legal marriage process.
Generally, you will need to apply for a marriage license in the county where you plan to wed—even if you both reside in a different county. Therefore, one of the first steps in the legal marriage process is figuring out where you and your spouse would like to get married. Establishing a date for your wedding is also important at this stage since you surely do not want to wait until the last minute to apply for a marriage license. It can take time to receive your license after filing for it, so applying at least two weeks before the wedding is recommended. It is also required by some states that you wait at least 72 hours after you apply for a marriage license before getting married. On the other hand, applying for a marriage license too far in advance of your wedding is not a good idea, either. Marriage licenses expire, which may be as soon as 30 days and as long as a year after the date the license is issued, so keep this in mind when setting a date for the ceremony to avoid having to reapply during the stressful days before your wedding.
Once you have a date and time established for your wedding, head to your local county clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license. You and your spouse should plan to spend about an hour at the office. While some county clerk offices will mail out your marriage license within a couple of days, others will issue it immediately. To prepare for your visit to the county clerk, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
With your marriage license in hand, it is time to get married! Your spouse and you will start collecting signatures after the ceremony. Naturally, the couple will sign the marriage license first. If the license includes a space for a married name, you should use the new last name you intend to use.
Next, whoever legally performed your ceremony, the officiant, must sign the marriage license. Take into account that several states allow a self-united or self-solemnized marriage, where an officiant is not needed in the first place and therefore does not need to sign the marriage license.
Lastly, some states will require the signature of one or two witnesses on the license. In most states, the witnesses must be over the age of 18.
Once all of the signatures are collected, the officiant’s final job is to turn in the marriage license to the county clerk's office. The license can be submitted either by mail or in person. After that, you will usually receive a copy of your marriage certificate in the mail. It is advisable to obtain at least three copies of the certified marriage certificate since you may need them to change your marital status with car insurance, social security, bank accounts, and the IRS. You can contact your local county clerk if you need additional copies.