Everything You Need to Know About Marriage Licenses

wedding planning
Photo by Kelley Jordan Photography

Oh, the marriage license. It’s one of those little things that can easily slip through the cracks on your wedding to-do list. While focusing on the wedding invitations and flowers, to even making sure your soon-to-be husband has bought his groomsmen gifts is important (and way more fun), the marriage license is one of those annoying details you CANNOT forget about!

So, what do you need to know about getting your marriage license?

There are SO many questions it can be hard to know where to begin. Where do you get a marriage license application? What identification should you bring? How much does a marriage license cost? Do you need a blood test to get a marriage license? How long are marriage licenses valid for? Read on below to find out the answers to these questions and more.

TIP: Your wedding day is almost here! Check the other big items off your list with our Wedding Planning checklist.

Where Can You Get a Marriage License?

The easiest place to get your marriage license is the county clerk’s office or the court clerk in the state where you are getting married.

If you are getting married in a different city than where you live, make sure your travel plans leave you enough time to spend an hour or two sitting in the waiting room of that city’s county clerk. I suggest going during the week before or after lunch (it tends to get busier when people at work try to get their errands done on their lunch break.) Some County Clerks offer online appointments, too, which I highly recommend to help you cut down on the wait-time. Find your local county clerk’s site here.

WGM Says: If you or your partner are a member of the armed forces of the United States, you may be able to marry by proxy if you are on active duty. (That means there can be an absent applicant). This option is currently only available in California, Colorado, Montana, and the state of Texas and application rules vary by county.

What Identification Do I Need to Bring?

There are some minor variations between states (so make sure you check with your state’s county clerk first), but these are the pieces of identification you need to bring with you to get your marriage license:

  • Birth certificate (or some proof of citizenship like a passport that also hows your date of birth)
  • Photo identification (like a driver’s license or state id)
  • Proof of divorce (if you have been previously married) or annulment
  • If you’re under 18 years of age, you need proof of consent by a parent

Do I Need a Blood Test?

For the most part, no. Most states have done away with the tradition of mandatory blood tests for two people who want to get married. The current exception is Montana, which states the following:

The bride, if under the age of 50, must provide proof of a Rubella blood test or a doctor’s statement regarding sterilization. This information must be submitted on the State of Montana Premarital Certificate and must be signed by a physician. Or the bride and groom may choose to read and sign an Informed consent Waiver (part B of the Premarital Certificate) which waives the requirement for the medical certification of blood testing for rubella immunity. This form may be obtained from the Clerk of District Court in any county in the State of Montana.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Marriage License?

The price of a marriage license is the one aspect of this whole process that varies the most from state to state. A marriage license fee can be as little as $35 in certain areas of New York State, $93.50 for Florida, and $115 in Minnesota (though there is a reduced fee if you get 12-weeks of premarital counseling, which will bring the cost down to $40).

One very important note: Some cities and states such as Las Vegas and Hawaii (among others) only accept CASH for marriage certificates, so make sure you confirm what you’ll need ahead of time. Check here to see how much it costs in your state.

Do I Have to Be a Resident of the State I’m Getting Married In?

No, you don’t. As long as you bring the proper identification and the payment required, you can get a marriage license for any state in the United States.

Is There a Waiting Period From the Time You Apply for the Marriage License Until You Actually Get it?

Most states have no waiting period, but there are some exceptions from state to state, so make sure you work these into your schedule:

  • Alaska – 3 day waiting period
  • Delaware – 24 hour waiting period (if you’re not a resident that bumps up to a 96 hour waiting period)
  • District of Columbia – 5 day waiting period (Why? I don’t know.)
  • Florida – 3 day waiting period (unless you complete a “marriage preparation course”)
  • Illinois – 24 hour waiting period
  • Iowa – 3 business days (note that it’s business days here, which means you should apply the Monday before your weekend wedding just to be safe)
  • Kansas – 3 days
  • Louisiana – 72-hour waiting period. Non-Louisiana residents can get married in New Orleans without the waiting period. Isn’t New Orleans the best?
  • Maryland – 48 hour waiting period
  • Massachusetts – 3 days
  • Michigan – 3 days
  • Missouri – 3 days
  • New Jersey – 72 hours
  • New York – 24 hours
  • Oregon – 72 hours
  • Pennsylvania – 72 hours
  • South Carolina – 1 day
  • Texas – 3 days
  • Washington state – 3 days
  • Wisconsin – 6 days(!)

If your state is not listed, there’s no waiting period. Hooray!

How Long is a Marriage License Valid For?

Right now you’re probably saying, “Wait, what? Why do marriage licenses expire?” Most marriage licenses are good for a minimum of 30 days (some are good indefinitely, however others are good for 60 or 90 days). The main takeaway? Don’t be a super bride and apply for your marriage license more than a month before your actual marriage ceremony. If you’re in a state that only has their licenses valid for 30 days, that’s a problem.

How to Get Your Marriage License

After reading all this, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. After all, you’re just trying to get this little piece of paper that makes the most special day of your life valid. Trust me, this isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. Here’s how the whole process works, below. Just be sure to check with the county clerk’s office where you want to get married for additional information.

Step 1:

You bring your photo id, your payment (remember some only accept cash!) down to your county clerk’s office and apply for your marriage license.

Step 2:

Depending on your state (sometimes there is a 24-hour or longer waiting period), you either get your marriage license on the spot, or you abide by the waiting period. If you have to wait, they can either mail you your marriage license, or you can stop by the county clerk and pick it up once the waiting period has ended.

Step 3:

You get married by a certified wedding officiant (finally!). I know this step is the best part, but make sure that your wedding officiant is legally recognized as a wedding officiant in your state. Otherwise you’re going to have to redo your vows, which would be a huge pain in the behind.

Step 4:

You need signatures from you and your spouse, your wedding officiant, and witnesses (depending on the state) to make it legal. This is the most official step of the whole process. Once you sign, you are legally married. (Congrats!)

The following states require witnesses to make the marriage legal. Witnesses should be at least 18-years old (except they can be 16 in Minnesota) and bring a photo ID to show proof of age:

  • Alaska: 2
  • Arizona: 2 
  • California: 1
  • Delaware: 2
  • Georgia: If your officiant does not sign the license, then you would need 2 witnesses
  • Iowa: 1 
  • Kansas: 2 
  • Kentucky: 2 
  • Louisiana: 2 
  • Maine: 2 
  • Michigan: 2 
  • Minnesota 2 
  • Nebraska: 2
  • Nevada: 1
  • New Jersey: 1 
  • New Mexico: 2 
  • New York: 1
  • North Carolina: 2
  • North Dakota: 2
  • Oklahoma: 2
  • Oregon: 2
  • Rhode Island: 2 
  • South Dakota: 2
  • Utah: 2 
  • Washington: 2 
  • Wisconsin: 2
  • Wyoming: 2

Step 5:

Don’t forget this one. Take that signed marriage license and drop it off at the same county clerk’s office where you applied for it. Or, in some states your officiant must be the one to return it, so double check. It’s also important to know when to drop it off. In South Dakota, for instance, the officiant must return the license to the Register of Deeds within 10 days.

Step 6:

Usually within a week or so you can purchase a certified copy of your marriage license so you can add it to your wedding album. Or put it wherever you keep those insurance documents that you’re keeping for reasons that are never quite clear.

Step 7:

Enjoy the fact that you don’t have to go back to the county clerk’s office until your car tags expire.

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18 Comments

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  1. says: Gwendolyn

    After the wedding, how long do I have to turn in license, or does it never expire? If I wanted to take a long honeymoon.

  2. says: Kyria

    I would like to know what happens when you apply for a marriage license and you don’t want to marry the person anymore. We have not done the ceremony so no marriage certificate.
    Is it possible for me to get married to someone else before that other marriage license expires ?

  3. says: Mindy

    We are getting married in like 2 weeks and my fiance cant find his birth certificate so we can get our marriage licenses and he does not have a passport what do we do

  4. says: Karen

    I got married and thought I had 90 days to file license with County Clerk, but it turns out that I only had 30 days to file. Can I still file it with the clerk and it be legal? Will the minister get in trouble or what. Please help. I want my marriage date to be right

  5. says: Destiny

    Hello i need help!!
    I’m worried because we got married but we lost the licence after we got married i din’t know i have to return it to the clerk office .so know i found it but i married in 2013 what do i do? Do i send it?
    Was my mariege valid? Do i have to get another’s license beacuse i din’t return it? Agh please help me. I live in Texas.

  6. says: Erica

    I sent my marriage license in the mail after we got married a month ago. I have not revived anything back. What do I do now? I was told I would get something in the mail in a few weeks so that I can change my name.

  7. says: ezabel

    If my fiance has his birth certificate but dont have a valid passport …will he be required to renew his passport?

  8. says: AWolfe

    In Missouri they print them out same day, usually takes 20 minutes or so… it may be different in larger cities but even when I lived in KCMO the clerk was hardly busy…

  9. says: Molly

    I’m getting Married in NJ but i live in PA where do i apply for my marriage license? NJ or PA?

  10. says: Bruce

    So I officiated my brothers wedding on a Sunday. They forgot to get their marriage license. They went to the county clerk’s office on Monday to get the license (Texas). They just sent it to me to sign and mail back to the county clerk. The license shows Monday’s date (day after). My question is can I date it on Sunday or do I need to date it on Monday? Hope this makes sense.

  11. says: Bella

    My marriage license in Minnesota is $115. It was $113, but I applied online and they said $115 in the email. It’s more expensive than Florida.

  12. says: Elizabeth irace

    I got married in 2002, and since then I have been divorced. I am getting married again can I have the same person be a witness

  13. says: Ivy

    so after I drop it off I don’t have to pay a fee for it every now and then for the marriage license to be valid

  14. says: amy

    i got married august 9 2015 and i handed in the marriage license to the county clerk but in salina kansas u get a duplicate and u have to send it off to topeka kansas urself with a $15 payment. I totally forgot to send it to get the certified copy and the license has now expired. Am I still legally married and what do i have to do to get another one. Do i have to get married all over again.

  15. says: Nicola

    What if a friend of mine is an offiant and I had my marriage certificate in NJ but we had a little ceremony in New Hope, PA and he signed it there?