Published: Friday, Apr. 1st, 2022
From rolling hills and corn fields, to sparkling modern skyscrapers, Iowa offers romantic backdrops of every kind. And considering the state’s thriving arts and music scene, as well as its world-class restaurants, it's easy to see why Iowa is a top destination for weddings.
Applying for a marriage license in this Midwest State will look different in each county, so it’s important to get a head start on the planning process to avoid unnecessary stress. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a short guide to help you begin.
To get a Polk County marriage license,
head to the County Registrar / Recorder in Des Moines. (Photo: Austin Goode)
Got one? Whew! There will be a few more boxes to check, but the hardest part’s over.
A wedding officiant is the person who conducts your ceremony and signs the marriage license, making things legal.
A friend or relative can perform your wedding ceremony in Iowa if they’ve been ordained. (Get ordained online for free with AMM.)
If you want to hire a professional officiant, the state has many qualified officiants to choose from. The following people are authorized to solemnize marriage in Iowa:
Various judges or a judicial magistrate; a person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith.
Iowa is home to popular recreational outdoor attractions, and thriving cities like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport, making it a favorite for destination weddings. Whether you’re dreaming of a big to-do or a romantic elopement for two -- there’s something for everyone!
Popular dates, venues, and officiants book up fast, so start early. And remember you’ll need permission (and a permit) to use a public space, such as a city park or recreational area. Permits can take weeks to process, so factor this into your timeline, too.
* There is a 3 day waiting period before the license is issued, excluding the day of application. This means your license will be issued on the 4th day. (Weekends are included in this count) Some counties offer a waiting period waiver for a small additional fee.
Alright, time to make sure your wedding’s legal! We’ll break down each part of the marriage license process, one step at a time:
You’ll apply for your marriage license through the County Registrar/ Recorder Office. An adult witness must accompany the couple to their application appointment. You don’t need to be an Iowa resident to marry there.
If you’re planning a wedding anywhere in Iowa, we recommend contacting the County Registrar closest to your venue to learn more.
The cost of a license varies by county, and will cost about $35. Some offices will only accept specific types of payment (cash or check), so it’s important to plan ahead.
There’s no fee to register your marriage after the ceremony.
Iowa has a 3 day waiting period for marriage licenses, excluding the day of application, meaning that your license will be valid on the 4th day. Weekend days are included in this count.
For example, if you submit your application on Monday, your license will be valid on Friday. If you submit your application on Wednesday, your license will be valid on Sunday.
An Iowa marriage license can be used in any county in the state, and expires 6 months after the date of application.
The license must be signed by each party to the marriage, 2 adult witnesses, and the marriage officiant following the ceremony, and returned to the County Registrar. (We’ll cover this more below.)
The license must be returned within 15 days of the ceremony.
A beautiful winter wedding in the snow
Once you’ve chosen a date, a venue, and have your marriage license details worked out, you’ll be ready to meet with your wedding officiant to plan the ceremony!
This is when things start to come into focus. You’ll talk about the tone of your ceremony, the ‘vibe’ you want to create for your guests, and any special elements and unity rituals you want to include. You and your officiant might meet a few more times to exchange more ideas, fine-tune a script, or rehearse the ceremony leading up to the wedding day.
AMM’s website is full of resources to help you decide what kind of ceremony you want, tips on working well with your officiant, and advice on keeping your ceremony authentic and on budget.
Visit Articles for Couples on our American Weddings blog, or browse general articles by category or keyword.
Aside from yourselves, the most important thing you’ll bring with you on the wedding day is your marriage license -- because no license means no marriage. Your officiant won’t be able to perform the wedding without having a license present (even if you have it at home), so make sure it’s with you.
After the ceremony, you and your officiant will sign the license, along with 2 adult witnesses. For tips on how to complete the license, head here.
Once it’s signed, you must record it with the local County Registrar within 15 days. Check with your county for details.
After it’s been recorded, you’re officially married!
We’ve got everything you need to understand the state’s licensing and registration requirements, any ministry credentials and paperwork you might need, and helpful tips for several cities in the state, including Des Moine and Cedar Rapids.
Become a Wedding Officiant with Our Free Online Ordination!