A marriage license is a legal document obtained by a couple prior to marriage. Once the license is signed and returned by an officiant to the county, a marriage certificate is issued. The document can be signed during or after your ceremony, and signifies the legal portion of your marriage. Needless to say, this is a very important document. According to Brides.com, a marriage license is basically an application to get married. Once this document is completed and filed, the marriage certificate follows. This process is typically quite simple, but it’s important to learn the ins and outs so that nothing gets misconstrued on your important day.

The following questions and answers are must-reads early on in the wedding planning process, as there truly can be no marriage without the completion of these documents. This information may vary slightly from state to state, but overall will guide you through this legal process.

Q: What do I need to bring to get my marriage license?

A: You will need to bring proof of identity for both spouses (driver’s license or passport), a witness (family member or friend who you have known for at least six months), detailed parent information for both spouses (full birth names, birthdates, birth states, and dates of passing), and payment for a fee (between $35-$150 depending on the state). If you are under 18, you will likely need to bring a parent to give consent for the marriage.

Q: What needs to be done before?

A: You will need to have a firm date set for your wedding. Some marriage licenses expire within 90 days of obtaining them, so you will also need to research the marriage laws of your state before beginning this process. It’s also recommended to file for a marriage license at least one week before the wedding to make sure that it’s approved.

Q: Where do I go to get my marriage license?

A: Visit your county clerk's office to obtain your marriage license. You may need to make an appointment before visiting, and be sure to check your local county clerk’s website beforehand to make sure that you have all of the information that you need.

Q: What happens after I get my marriage license?

A: Once you’ve turned in all of your information and received your marriage license, you will need the couple, legal officiant of the wedding, and two witnesses (anyone at your wedding), to sign off on the marriage certificate. This can be done during your ceremony, at your wedding, or after; but it’s the final step to making this a legal marriage. The officiant will turn in the completed marriage license to the county after the wedding, so make sure that the officiant for your wedding knows their duties as well as you knowing yours.

Pro tip: If you are planning on changing your name in the marriage, go ahead and get that done while you are at the county clerk's office. This will prevent you from making a second visit, and you will remain with your maiden name until your ceremony on your wedding day.

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