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Wedding Officiants: Tips for Calling the County Clerk's Office (Especially if You're Nervous!)

Published Monday, May. 17th, 2021

Nervous or confused about calling your county clerk to register as an officiant? Not sure which questions to ask about the marriage license?



Calling a government office can feel intimidating, especially if you’re asking a question about something you’ve never done before. What do you say? How do you say it? And what if they tell you that you’ve done something wrong, or that you can no longer marry the people who just asked you to officiate their wedding? Gah


We totally understand feeling confused or nervous about calling a county clerk for the first time… But the best way to get past the uncertainty is to go ahead and do it -- which is the same advice we’ll give you if you’re nervous about stepping in front of a crowd to conduct that first wedding ceremony, fyi. 


Nerves or not, the bottom line is this: Whether you’ve been asked to officiate for a friend or family member’s wedding, or you’re hoping to make officiating your new career or side hustle, it’s important to get comfortable talking to county clerks. 


Asking other officiants and established pros for advice can be incredibly helpful, but even folks with the best intentions can sometimes get the details wrong. And when you’re handling a marriage license, those details matter! 


AMM offers free online Wedding Officiant Training


That’s why there’s really no replacement for speaking directly with a county clerk when you’re in doubt. Clerks are here to help! (...except in a few rare cases, discussed below...) 



Here are some suggestions for making that first phone call as stress-free as possible.



1. Don’t go in cold...


Before you dial a clerk, do a little homework to prepare for the call. This will make the rest of the conversation easier.


First, make sure you’ve been ordained online and received an email confirming your ordination. 


Next, check if ordained ministers are required to register in the county where you’ll be performing the wedding. It’s important to check the rules in the county where the wedding venue is located, which may or may not be the same county you live in. If you’ve been asked to officiate a wedding out of state, check the rules for the state and county where the ceremony will be taking place. 


You can do this by visiting our Weddings by State: Officiant Registration by State pages


Then, order any minister credentials needed to register -- such as your Ordination Certificate and a Letter of Good Standing which provide proof of ordination. Once you have all of your required paperwork in hand, you’ll be ready to speak confidently with the clerk.



2. Call the right county 


Don’t be surprised to discover that the rules for getting married, officiating a ceremony, and turning in a completed marriage license are different in each state -- and sometimes in each county!


That’s why it’s so important to call the correct county office. 


To make this easy, read How to Find Out What County a Wedding Venue is In -- Marriage License Tips


Once you know the county, a quick search will help you find the correct phone number. The simplest way to find the number will be to type name of county + state + marriage license



image is an up-close photo of an old globe, with the states of US states outlined and cities marked

What county is the wedding venue in?



3. “Hello, I’m an ordained minister and I’m hoping you can help with...”


Ok! You’ve got your ordination, you’ve got your paperwork, now it’s time to get some answers!  


Introduce yourself as an ordained minister, and then ask them anything at all about the legal side of the officiating process. Don’t worry, they’ve heard it all before! 


If you’re nervous, remember this: County clerks kind of remind us of adorable, occasionally aloof cats. Yes, cats. There’s a chance they’ll sound grumpy, rushed, or in need of a strong cup of coffee, but that’s part of why we love them. Luckily, they are much more helpful than actual cats. 



image is of a cat wearing reading glasses, sitting back in a chair like a human would, with a computer keyboard on its lap, computer mouse under its paw, and a tablet in front... it's working!

County clerks are much more helpful than actual cats.

(No offense to this hard worker.)



4. Ask these questions…


You’ll have your own questions of course, but here are a few common ones to help get you started. 


  • I’ve read I need to register as a minister to perform a wedding. How do I begin the process? 


You may have already looked up if and how you need to register, but now’s the time to confirm this and begin to gather any necessary paperwork. 


  • Who returns the completed marriage license after the wedding ceremony?


Some counties require the wedding officiant to return the license, but others ask the couple to return it themselves. Some counties allow either party to return it. 


How you return it also varies by county -- some counties allow returns by mail, some electronically, and others require it to be returned in person. 


  • How soon after the ceremony does the license need to be returned? 


This is called the ‘return date.’ Each state has a different return date, the day by which a license must be returned for the marriage to be valid and legally binding. This can be anywhere from a day or two after the wedding, up to sixty days or a year, depending on the state. 



image is of a young woman, wedding officiant, looking contemplative as she holds her phone up ready to dial the local county clerk office to register

Get ordained with AMM before you call the county clerk's office.



If a clerk tells you that your online ordination isn’t valid…


We’ve heard reports of county clerks in certain states telling ministers that their online ordinations aren’t valid or accepted. Unfortunately, these particular clerks are not here to help you, and they may even give you information that (intentionally) contradicts the current laws in their state or county.


We realize that this spread of misinformation can be confusing and frustrating, and we’re always here to help you better understand your rights as an AMM Minister. 


Here’s what you need to know: Ordination through American Marriage Ministries is recognized in the entire United States and its territories. In the past, lawmakers in some states (like New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Tennessee) have tried to make it difficult or impossible for online-ordained ministers to perform weddings, and some of those counties and county clerks still try to refuse the credentials of online-ordained ministers. 


If you encounter this situation, contact us right away. 


Our team works closely with marriage bureaus and government offices across the country to ensure that the rights of our ministers are upheld.



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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.

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