Marriage License 101: What You Need to Know

As you plan your wedding and prepare to take your vows, don’t forget about your marriage license! It may seem like a simple piece of paperwork, but a marriage license is the single document that legally marks you as married.  Here are answers to the top six questions brides ask about marriage licenses so you’re in the know before you walk down the aisle.

What is a marriage license?
Marriage licenses were introduced in 14th century England to allow couples to marry sooner than the customary three week waiting period of the time, during which an announcement of the impending marriage was given at the couple’s church three Sundays in a row to give anyone with an objection to the marriage time to speak up before the wedding. In the 21st century, a marriage license is the document that allows you to marry your spouse, and be considered legally married in the eyes of the U.S. government. 
Why do I need a marriage license?
Without a marriage license, you can have a wedding complete with vows and not be legally married. Outside of wanting to be officially married to the love of your life, there are benefits to having a legal union recognized by the government. Couples need to be legally married to have the option to receive tax breaks when filing jointly, share health care policies, pool insurance policies and to set each other up as a beneficiaries for federal benefits such as Social Security.  
How do I apply for a marriage license?
Typically, an engaged couple will need to apply for their marriage license at the county clerk’s office in the county they plan to wed in. One or both persons getting married will need to apply in person and bring their driver’s licenses and social security cards as proof of identity. You’ll complete a form, pay a fee and either have the marriage license issued that same day or after a county-determined waiting period. For specific information on your county’s marriage license filing process, check out
When do I apply for a marriage license?
Once you have your wedding date set, research your county’s waiting period and expiration window for marriage licenses. Most marriage licenses are valid for 30 days, but some are good for as long as a year. Ideally, you want to file for your marriage license as soon as possible (so you don’t forget) but you don’t want to get it so early that it expires prior to your wedding. Once you receive your marriage license, give it to your pastor or officiant for safekeeping until your big day arrives!
How much does a marriage license cost?
Marriage license fees vary from county to county and state to state and can range between $5 to $95. Non-residents can expect to pay more for a marriage license than in-state residents. Fun fact: some states offer a discount on marriage license fees if you show proof of attending pre-marital counseling from!
Where do I file for a marriage license if I’m planning a destination wedding or moving outside the U.S.?
You will need to file for a marriage license in whatever country you are tying the knot in. If your marriage license is not in English, a quick call to the Social Security Administration at 800.772.1213 will verify if you need to have it authenticated or translated before your marriage is recognized by the U.S. government. Planning to move to another country as newlyweds?  Good news, once you are legally married, you do not have to file for another marriage certificate no matter where you move!

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