Published: Friday, Oct. 23rd, 2020

Tags: advice, ceremony, couples, officiant, marriage-license, legality


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No marriage license, no marriage… but maybe a misdemeanor?

Marriage license requirements officiants
Illustrations by Jessica Levey

Imagine for a moment, all the hard work and potential stress involved in planning a wedding — the hours spent creating an authentic and personalized ceremony script, selecting the right attire, choosing a venue, spreading the word among friends and family, deciding between an in-person or online event, and picking food and drink that will make the most folks happy. It’s a lot of work, throwing a live event like that, especially one with such big implications for the years to come. But at least two people who really love and value each other are hitched at the end of it, right? Well, not necessarily… 


Now imagine that after all that time, and money, spent on their wedding, that the couple isn’t hitched. A bunch of fun photos and some happy memories aren’t bad, but they’re not a marriage. Because someone (we won’t name names…) forgot to bring the marriage license to have it signed on the wedding day by the officiant.


It’s a common enough occurrence that many officiants won’t hold the ceremony without having a marriage license in their hands at least 30 minutes before the scheduled vows. They’ll offer their sympathies, but not their time. It’s that simple. No license, no wedding!





Others will go through with the ceremony, but will change the wording of the script, transforming the event into a commitment ceremony, rather than a wedding ceremony.


(Here’s a Civil Wedding Ceremony Script that can be adapted for a commitment ceremony, for example.)



Some officiants might risk it, and decide to go through with the ceremony, hoping in good faith that a marriage certificate will manifest itself later to be signed in time. But that’s not without real risk, and might be considered a misdemeanor, complete with fine and potential jail time, by their local authorities. 


(Read more about the marriage laws in your state on our site.)



To avoid making these tough decisions the day of the wedding, couples and officiants should reach an understanding well in advance. An officiant may even choose to include time guidelines in their standard contract from the start. Everyone involved should know who has the marriage license in-hand several days before the wedding, and the officiant should see it and hold it, verifying its existence, well before the ceremony begins.


This eliminates the risk of hard feelings, disappointment, and heck… misdemeanors, and ensures the couples will have happy photos, fun memories, and a legally binding marriage! 


After the ceremony is complete and the marriage license is signed by the officiant and any witnesses required by your state, it will need to be returned and filed for the marriage to be finalized. You can find out guidelines for filing a marriage license in your state, and a lot of other useful information about licenses, by reading An Introduction to the Marriage License.


(Read How to Fill Out a Marriage License for helpful instructions on correctly filling out your marriage license.)


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