How To Get Your Marriage License

by Caitlin Frauton

Wondering how to get a marriage license? The most important thing you should know is that it varies state to state, and even county to county. All the rules can get a little unwieldy, so these are the basic areas to research in the location of where you are getting married. Once you know what the county has to say about each of these areas and you've picked up your license, you'll be legally ready for your walk down the aisle (yay!).

But first thing's first — what is a marriage license? A marriage license is a government-issued document that shows that you and your partner are legally allowed to be married. Marriage licenses first made an appearance in the Middle Ages, and in the United States, some people even needed to obtain a marriage license during colonial times. So needless to say, marriage licenses have been a prerequisite for a lot of couples tying the knot. John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Prince William and Duchess Kate — yep, they all needed one. So clearly there's no way to walk down the aisle without one of these bad boys. Here's what you need to know:

How do I know if I'm eligible for a marriage license?

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You may not be eligible if you are under the age range of 18-21. If you're currently married, you can't get married again until you're legally divorced (kind of a no brainer though, right?). If you're too close of kin, that's a no go in many places. And if you live in one of the behind-the-times states where same sex marriage is not legal, then you sadly may not be allowed to get married in your state. (When will those states wake up so the United States can count itself in the company of the 19 nations who have legalized same-sex marriage already?)

When should I get my marriage license?


When you should get your marriage license varies, but be aware that most marriage licenses have 1) a waiting period before they are issued, 2) a waiting period before they are allowed to be used, and/or 3) an expiration date. Generally waiting periods are brief, but you may need to wait a few days before you receive or are able to use your license. Marriage licenses can expire in as little as 30 days, and some never expire. Find out what all these time frames are for your location, and make sure your wedding day fits in the timeline accordingly.

Where do I go to get my marriage license?

You'll want to apply for your marriage license in the location that you are getting married. Therefore, if you live in Colorado but are getting married in Vermont, Vermont is where you'll apply.

Generally you need to go to the Clerk's Office, Town Hall, or City Hall to get a marriage license. The best way to find out is to call the local government office or look at their website to find out where to go. In some cases you can fill the application out online and then pick your marriage license up in person after showing all of your documentation (keep reading for information on what documentation is needed).

Who needs to go to get a marriage license?

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Both parties are required to be present to either apply for or pick up the marriage license with few exceptions. If you have an extenuating circumstance where both parties cannot be present, make sure to find out your local requirements about this.

What do I need to bring to get a marriage license?

When applying for your marriage license in most states, you need to bring a photo identification such as a licence or passport; proof of citizenship and/or residence; a birth certificate to show your age; a death certificate if you are widowed or divorce decree if you are divorced; proof of parental consent and possibly court consent if you're underage; and blood test results if your state requires this (only a small handful do).

What information do I need to get a marriage license?

In most cases you'll want to bring all of the above applicable documentation as well as your social security number, your parents' names and places of birth (though this is likely on your birth certificate), and the name of the person officiating the marriage ceremony.

How long does it take to get a marriage license?

This depends on the waiting period for your state, as mentioned before. Most states don't have any waiting period at all, but 14 states have a waiting period that ranges from one day to five days.

How much does a marriage license cost?


Some people have purported marriage licenses are as little as $5 and others, as much as $96. Do your due diligence, and make sure to find out the fee in your area.

What do I do with a marriage license?

Once you and your partner have been married, it's time for you to sign, seal, and deliver that license so you can receive your official marriage certificate proving that you and your spousy are the real deal. Generally, your officiant will handle the filing of the license for you, but you want to confirm if that's definitely the case and if not, what steps you will need to take to submit your marriage license. Make sure to ask the government office who needs to sign the license, where it needs to be delivered, and when you'll receive your actual marriage certificate. Your marriage certificate is then what you'll use when changing your last name, sharing insurance policies, etc.


Want to learn more about the requirements for where you're getting married? Check out this super helpful chart about state marriage requirements, but remember to still contact the local government office since marriage license requirements can vary within a state.

Images: april/Flickr; Getty (5)