Stay up to date with the latest wedding ceremony trends, script writing inspiration, tips and advice for first-time officiants, and news that matters to couples and wedding ministers.

Wedding regrets: Should a wedding officiant return the marriage license if the couple changes their mind after the ceremony?

Published Wednesday, Mar. 22nd, 2023

Does a Wedding Officiant have to return the marriage license if the newlyweds change their mind? 


Listen now: 

AMM Audio Articles · Should a wedding officiant return the marriage license if the couple changes their mind?




We’re all familiar with buyer’s remorse, right? 


That sinking feeling you get following a purchase so big that your monthly budget looks more like a wishlist than a ‘responsible’ adult’s expenses? We’ve all been there.


Well, marriage is a pretty big purchase (in a manner of speaking), and sometimes, a newly married bride or groom wakes up the day after their wedding, looks around, and wonders… “What the f*$k did I just do?” 


Many wedding officiants are familiar with what comes next.


There’s a desperate text message. A panicked email. Frenzied phone calls and voicemails that range from tearful to tempestuous. And they all say the same thing: 


“Please don’t return the marriage license. We changed our minds.”


This puts the wedding officiant in a pretty awkward spot. If they’ve already returned the license, there’s not much to say besides “best of luck.” Once a marriage license is returned to a registrar or clerk’s office, it’s recorded and that marriage is one-hundred-percent official. 


But what if the wedding officiant hasn’t returned the license yet? Do they have to return it if the couple says not to, and what happens if they don’t? 


Let’s take a look! 




Does a wedding officiant have to return a marriage license if the couple changes their mind? 


It depends on which state issued the marriage license: different states have different laws regarding who’s supposed to return the marriage license after the ceremony. This information is available from the office that issues marriage licenses in your area. 


In states where it’s the couple’s responsibility to return their license, the wedding officiant won’t be involved in whatever post-wedding fallout occurs. This situation just won’t come up, although you might be asked to testify about whether or not you performed the ceremony. (For example, during a divorce dispute.)


In states where it’s the officiant’s responsibility to return a marriage license, Yes. Return it. You have an obligation to follow the state’s guidelines for returning the marriage license, even if you get an unhappy text message the next day. 


Here’s why: In states where the law requires an officiant to return a marriage license within a certain amount of time following a ceremony (called the return period), there are usually legal penalties for failing to do so. 


This penalty might be a fine, or something more serious. If either newlywed complains to a clerk or a court that you didn’t do your job, you might be on the hook. In Virginia, for example, a minister can be fined $25 for failing to certify and file the marriage record within 5 days of a ceremony (§ 20-24 / § 32.1-267). And in West Virginia, an officiant who “willfully fails to comply with the provisions of section 2-202, relating to the endorsement and return of a license” can be suspended from officiating for six months or more (§ 48-2-504 / § 48-2-202). 


And consider what else might happen if one newlywed wants a license filed but the other doesn’t… This situation pulls the officiant into a potentially long and drawn out domestic dispute that could involve court appearances or more – and no one needs that kind of hassle in their life. 


To keep things simple, we recommend that once an officiant has performed a ceremony and signed a license, they return it to the appropriate office (if required to do so in their state).


If the couple decides after a wedding that they no longer want to be married, they’ll be able to take the necessary steps to undo what’s been done, whether that’s an annulment, divorce, or something else.


Friendly Disclaimer: 


Keep in mind that we aren’t lawyers – we’re a church! This isn’t legal advice, just a few helpful suggestions from ministers who love weddings.



Every state writes its own marriage laws, return guidelines, and penalties for not returning a marriage license. 


To make the best decision in situations like these, we recommend that all wedding officiants familiarize themselves with the marriage laws in the states where they perform marriage. 


Being well informed might not keep you out of awkward situations like this one, but it will help you decide what to do when they come up. 


And luckily, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. The day after a wedding is usually filled with happy brunches, kissing, and comfortable shoes, not regret! The only buyer’s remorse or wedding regrets that most newlyweds feel will come from the cost of the wedding itself, not the marriage (but that’s an entirely different article). 



Happy officiating!



You might also like: 




Officiant Sherri Crawford signs the marriage license with a couple of happily newlyweds after the ceremony

Above: AMM Minister Officiant Sherri Crawford with two happy newlyweds at their ceremony at Lumina resort, on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

Should professional wedding officiants provide a contract for their services? Yes! Read the full article here. 




Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

How To Officiate By State

Will You Marry Us? Gift Package

Who Will Officiate Your Wedding?

Choose Your Officiant with our "Will You Marry Us?" Gift Package.

Signature Wedding Officiant Package

Signature Wedding Officiant Package

Our premiere package contains everyting you need to officiate like a pro.

The Book of Wedding Vows and Ceremonies

The Book of Wedding Vows and Ceremonies

It's finally here! Timeless scripts and heartfelt vow inspiration to bring life to your ceremony.

Professional Wedding Officiant Certification Course

Learn from the Pros to Officiate with Confidence!

Wedding Officiant Training

Wedding Officiant Training

Everything you need to know to officiate.

Read our sample wedding ceremony scripts online

Sample Wedding Ceremony Scripts

Need inspiration? Check out our free ceremony scripts!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter!


Become a Wedding Officiant with Our Free Online Ordination!