Published: Tuesday, Nov. 2nd, 2021
We’re all familiar with the marriage license -- the legal document that’s signed and submitted when a couple agrees to marry. But what about a confidential marriage license?
Because confidential licenses are only available in California and serve a special purpose, couples and wedding officiants might be wondering:
Read on for answers to all of these questions, and more!
Public vs confidential: The key difference between a public marriage license and a confidential license is that confidential licenses don’t become part of the public record and can only be accessed by the couple or by court order.
Every state requires a couple to file a marriage license to prove that they are legally married. Some states call this form something else, such as Alabama’s notarized ‘marriage certificate forms,’ but the principle is the same across the US: If a couple wants to be legally married, they must record their union with the local government after the marriage is solemnized.
These records are usually public, meaning that anyone can access them by contacting a Clerk or Vital Records office in the county or state where they are filed.
Confidential marriage licenses are also filed with the County Clerk, but they don’t become public record.
Pros - Some couples want their details kept private
For most people, having a public record of their marriage isn’t a big deal. But for others, such as celebrities, political figures, and others in the public eye (or those who want to stay out of it), it’s important to keep their personal details and marriages private. This is why many couples choose a confidential license.
When California first introduced the option for confidential marriage records back in 1878, it was a convenient way for couples who had been secretly ‘living in sin’ to legally marry without blowing their cover… which a public wedding certainly would do. This discrete option helped encourage marriage and simplified things when caring for children or distributing inheritances.
These days, it’s a popular option for a variety of reasons, including a lower cost than regular license and no need for witnesses, and an estimated one-fifth of marriages in California are confidential.
Cons - There may be some disadvantages to a private marriage record
Until recently, confidential licenses could only be used in the county in which they were issued. This was a major disadvantage for many couples, but the requirements were updated in 2015 and all licenses can now be used in any county in the state.
A potential disadvantage is that couples must be living together when they apply. This information is provided by the couple and won’t be checked by the county, but could pose a problem for couples who aren’t living together and answer honestly on their application.
Minors are not able to apply for this type of license, even with permission from a guardian.
Want to elope in California?
Confidential marriage licenses don't require witness signatures,
making them a great choice for elopements.
Applying for a confidential license is similar to applying for a public one, but there are a few unique requirements to be aware of. Couples in California should contact their local county clerk to learn more and begin the application process.
Requirements to apply for a confidential marriage license in California:
Wedding officiants will be relieved to know that signing and filing a confidential license is very straightforward. For this information, we look to § 506 of the California Family Code, which states that:
(a) The confidential marriage license shall be presented to the person solemnizing the marriage.
(b) Upon performance of the ceremony, the solemnization section on the confidential marriage license shall be completed by the person solemnizing the marriage.
(c) The confidential marriage license shall be returned by the person solemnizing the marriage to the office of the county clerk in the county in which the license was issued within 10 days after the ceremony.
This means that a wedding officiant will complete the marriage license in the same way that they would a public license. After the ceremony, the officiant will return the license within 10 days to the county where it was issued. This is the same ‘return period’ given for a regular license.
If a confidential marriage license is lost, damaged, or destroyed after the wedding ceremony, but before it’s returned to the county clerk, the wedding officiant must file an affidavit with the county clerk within one year of the ceremony to obtain a duplicate license. ( § 510 )
There’s no ‘take-two’ when it comes time for a couple to say ‘I do’-- Wedding officiants only get one shot to perform a perfect wedding ceremony.
Give yourself the tools and training you deserve to succeed as a wedding officiant, so that you can stand beside the lucky couple with complete confidence on their big day.
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