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By law, in order to legally wed in the United States, you must first obtain a marriage license, which is also known as a wedding license. Note that you will be unable to get married in the state you reside in if you have not visited your local county clerk office to file the appropriate paperwork. In simple terms, a marriage license is an official document, issued by your church or clerk of courts, which authorizes a couple to marry in the state. It is common to mistaken a marriage license for a marriage certificate, and vice-versa. However, the main difference between the two official documents is that a license for marriage allows two parties to legally marry, whereas a marriage certificate is only issued after the wedding takes place. In order for a marriage certificate to be considered official, it must contain the signatures of both spouses, as well as the signature of the individual (such as an ordained minister or notary public) who officiated the wedding ceremony. Once the marriage certificate has been filed, a newlywed couple can expect to receive a copy of their marriage record a few weeks after their wedding ceremony. As it pertains to applying for marriage licenses, the specific requirements to obtain one may vary from state to state. If you are in the process of completing a name change, you will also need to update this information with the appropriate parties and agencies. However, when getting a license to wed, there are certain basic eligibility factors that all wedding applicants must abide by. Continue reading to learn more about how to apply for marriage licenses.

How to Apply for Marriage Licenses

Before you can obtain an official marriage license, each state makes it mandatory for applicants to meet a certain list of eligibility requirements. Some of these basic requirements may require both soon-to-be spouses to:

  • Be physically present to request a marriage license.
  • Be at least 18 years of age (depending on your state, the age requirements may be less and/or require the consent of a legal parent or guardian).
  • Have proof of identity on their person, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate (if one of the parties was born outside the United States, you may be asked to present additional documentation).
  • Not be currently married.

Although it is uncommon, a few states make it mandatory to present proof of vaccination and/or a blood test for venereal diseases. The states that currently have blood test laws in place for a marriage license include Connecticut, Indiana and Montana. The nation's capital, the District of Colombia, is also a part of this list.

Keep in mind that some states require a certain period of time between the issuance of the marriage license and the actual wedding ceremony. For example, most allow a time frame of a minimum of one to five days. Additionally, it is important to note that your marriage license expires after a certain period of time. In some cases, a marriage license may only be good for 30 days, whereas other allow the validity of your marriage license for up to three months.

A final thing to note is that wedding license applicants may have a waiting period from the they submit the marriage application to the effective date of the marriage license. In order to learn more about the step-by-step process, make sure to contact your local county clerk’s office in person, by phone or online.

Why You Need a Record of Marriage

There are numerous reasons why a person may need to have a marriage record or a marriage certificate in his or her possession. For example, if you recently changed your name, your wedding certificate will serve as proof of your new name to various government entities and local agencies. With this official document in hand, you can then begin the process of filing a name change with the Social Security Administration or your state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Other instances that may require you to present a copy of marriage certificates include the unfortunate circumstance of your spouse’s passing. In order to resolve legal matters pertaining to wills, your spouse’s estate or financial affairs, you will need to provide your wedding certificate to certain parties, such as a court judge or your local DMV.

In order to obtain an official, certified marriage record, contact your local county clerk’s office or visit or the Bureau of Vital Records for further information.  You may have the option to complete your request online, by phone, in person or via mail. Make sure to have proof of identity on hand, along with your Social Security Number, in order to have your marriage application properly processed.

Changing Your Name After Marriage

If you are in the process of getting wedding licenses and changing your last name, this new information will be reflected on your marriage certificate. Thereafter, you will be required to notify all the appropriate parties of your name change, including but not limited to:

  • The Social Security Administration
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Your State Department
  • Your medical physicians and/or counselors
  • Your mortgage company
  • Your local voter registration board
  • Your utility companies
  • Any professional licensing boards you have affiliation with
  • Financial institutions or banks you have accounts with
  • Organizations or charities you are involved with
  • The Human Resources department at your workplace

Same Sex Marriages

Since June 2015, a ruling by the Supreme Court determined same sex marriages are now legal throughout the United States. The legalization of same sex marriages makes it mandatory for local courts and state courts to allow, recognize and issue gay marriage licenses. In order to obtain a same sex marriage license or get same sex marriage certificates, couples must adhere to the steps, eligibility criteria and requirements as mentioned above. Visit your local county clerk’s office to find out how you can get started.

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