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How to Get Married in California - Planning a Wedding in The Golden State

Published Tuesday, Nov. 29th, 2022


Planning a California wedding? This short guide will help -- from finding an officiant to completing the marriage license. 

 

 

 

From lush vineyards to sunny beaches, ethereal forests to the Hollywood skyline, California offers romantic backdrops of every kind. And considering the state’s world famous restaurants, theme parks, zoos, and other attractions, it’s easy to see why sunny California is a top destination for weddings. 

 

Applying for a marriage license in this west coast 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. 

 

 

Asked to officiate a wedding in California? 

Read How to Become a Wedding Officiant in California

 


A happy gay couple hold hands in a forest on their wedding day

Say 'I do' to a dreamy California wedding!

 

 

 

How to get married in California in 6 Steps

 

 

1. Get yourself a sweetheart! 


Got one? Whew! There will be a few more boxes to check, but the hardest part’s over.
 

2. Find a wedding officiant in California.


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 if they’ve been ordained.

 

 

 

If you want to hire a professional, the state has many qualified independent marriage officiants to choose from. The following people are authorized to solemnize marriage in California:

 

Persons Authorized To Solemnize Marriage: (a) Although marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil, and not a religious, contract, a marriage may be solemnized by a priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination who is 18 years of age or older. A person authorized by this subdivision shall not be required to solemnize a marriage that is contrary to the tenets of the person’s faith… (§ 400)

 

(Find a complete list of authorized officiants and more California marriage laws here.)

 


Photo of a happy bride and groom walking down the aisle outdoors at their wedding ceremony, the groom is in a suit and the bride is making a funny smile at the camera, she is wearing a red dress

With great weather year-round, Cali is the perfect choice for a destination wedding.

 

 

3. Choose a date and a venue...


California is home to lush vineyards, sunny beaches, and ethereal forests and peaks, along with thriving cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco – 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.

 

Marriage License Quick Facts

No Waiting Period
90 Day Expiration Period
10 Day Return Period

 

 

4. The marriage license.

 
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: 


Applying for your license

 

You’ll apply for your marriage license through a County Clerk or Recorder office. Appointments are usually required, and you’ll need to pay for your license at the time of application. You don’t need to be a California resident to marry there.

 

There are two types of marriage license to choose from in California: A public marriage license (becomes public record), and a confidential marriage license (marriage record is not made public). We include the requirements for each of these licenses below.

 

Learn more: Everything You Need to Know About California’s Confidential Marriage Licenses

 

Requirements to Apply: 

 

  • Both licenses: Both partners must be unmarried at the time of application
  • Both licenses: Both partners must provide unexpired gov. issued photo ID
  • Both licenses: If previously married, must provide exact date that marriage or domestic partnership ended, and if within last 90 days, must provide certified copy of the divorce, annulment, termination or death record 
  • Public license: One witness required at ceremony
  • Public license: Both partners must be at least 18 years old or meet the requirements for minors
  • Confidential license: Partners must be living together
  • Confidential license: Both partners must be at least 18 years old

 

If you’re planning a wedding anywhere in California, we recommend contacting the county clerk closest to your venue to learn more. 


Cost 


Your license will cost between $35 and $116 and will be paid for when you apply. Some offices will only accept certain forms of payment, so plan ahead! There’s no fee to register your marriage after the ceremony.


Waiting period


There is no waiting period between the time you receive your license and when your ceremony can take place.


Using and returning the license


A California marriage license can be used anywhere in the state, and expires 90 days after it’s issued. 

 

 

The license must be signed by each party to the marriage, one witness (public licenses only), and the marriage officiant following the ceremony, and returned to the County Clerk or Recorder office. (We’ll cover this more below.) 

 

The license must be returned within 10 days of the ceremony. 

 


Photo of Santa Monica, California, taken from the water, with tall skyscrapers and lots of people enjoying the ocean water and beach

You won't need a permit for a ceremony in the sand in Santa Monica, just purchase your marriage license in any county in the state and head to the shore. 

 

 

5. Meet with your wedding officiant...


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. 

 


6. The wedding day! 


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. 

 

 

After it’s signed, you must record it with the local county before the end of the 30 day expiration period. Check with your county for details.

 

Once it’s been recorded, you’re officially married! 

 

 

Newlyweds on the beach, the groom carries the bride in his arms

Congratulations!

 

 


Asked to officiate a wedding in California? 

 

Visit Weddings by State: California 

 

We’ve got everything you need to understand California's licensing and minister registration requirements, any ministry credentials and paperwork you might need, and helpful tips for several cities in the state, including Anaheim, Bakersfield, Chula Vista, Fresno, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and more.

 

 

 

 


 

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Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves digging into the history and magic of ritual, exploring the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She’s an advocate for marriage equality and individuality. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys easy hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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