The marriage license is a document that makes the marriage a binding legal contract. From a bureaucratic viewpoint, the marriage license is no different than any other binding legal contract. It serves as a state government record that the two parties listed on the document are contractually obligated to each other, in other words, they are legally married.
If you want to know more about government minister registration requirements to perform marriage in your state, check out our Marriage Minister Registration Guide.
It is the couple's responsibility to file for the marriage license. This is often confusing to people getting married and performing marriage for the first time. The officiant does not play any role in filing for the marriage license, however he or she has an important role on the wedding day, when the couple must present their marriage license to be completed by the officiant.
The office that issues the marriage license varies from state to state. Generally, the issuing office is located in the county courthouse. Our state marriage license table below shows you which office issues the marriage license in each US State.
As the Wedding Officiant, you need to:
The couple should have the marriage license with them.
All states have different laws governing the window of time during which the marriage license is valid and can be signed. For example in Georgia once issued, the marriage license never expires, meaning the couple could file for the license many months in advance of the wedding date, though once the marriage license is signed it has to be returned within 30 days. In Texas on the other hand, the couple is granted the marriage license immediately but must wait 3 days before it can be legally completed. Learn more about the marriage license laws regarding the Waiting Period, Return, and Expiration.
Once you are satisfied that the marriage license is valid and all the information is presented correctly, complete the fields relevant to you and sign the license along with any required witnesses. Guidance on completing the officiant fields on the marriage license are below.
This is usually the couple's responsibility and in most states the marriage license can be returned by mail. The specific instructions regarding how to fill it out and return it will be included when the couple files for the marriage license.
The specific fields, formatting, and wording on marriage licenses vary from state to state, even county to county, so it is important to read the instructions that come with the document carefully. Below is a comprehensive list of fields you may be asked to fill out when completing the marriage license as the wedding officiant.
If the marriage license asks for your Title, write "Minister".
When you become ordained with American Marriage Ministries, you are accepted into our church as a minister. It is with this title, Minister, that you have the authority to perform marriage.
If the marriage license asks for your Church, write "American Marriage Ministries".
As a minister with AMM, you are able to perform marriage in accordance with any religious practice, but when doing so you are still acting as a minister of American Marriage Ministries. We can not give you the authority to act as a representative of any other church.
If the marriage license asks for your Denomination, write "Non-Denominational", unless the marriage was celebrated in accordance with a specific denominational rite, which you should specify.
By performing marriage as an AMM minister, you are acting as a representative of American Marriage Ministries, a non-denominational and interfaith church. For this reason "Non-Denominational" is usually the most appropriate response. If your ceremony was celebrated with the tradition of a specific denomination, you should specify this (eg. Baptist). Additionally, there are a few counties that will not allow ministers to specify "Non-Denominational", if you are informed of this by your local county clerk, write "American Marriage Ministries".
The license may ask whether the wedding was Civil or Religious. Unless otherwise specified, you should mark "Religious".
Even if you perform a ceremony that is secular in nature, you will be doing so in your capacity as a minister, which is a “Religious” official. In general, a wedding is only registered as “Civil” when it has been performed by a judge or other officer of the court.
Many states require that 1 - 2 witnesses also sign the marriage license.
It is a requirement in many states that a witness, or pair of witnesses, also sign the marriage license. The witness(es) must complete their required fields on the license and sign the document. Traditionally this is done by the maid of honor and/or best man.
Depending on the state, it can be the responsibility of the couple or the minister to return the completed marriage license. The license must be returned to the office from which it was issued, or to another approved government office, in person or via the mail. Specific instructions should be included with the marriage license when it is filed for by the couple.
After the marriage license is returned to its issuance office, they make a copy and file the original with a state level government office. In most states this is the Department of Health or Bureau of Vital Statistics. The couple should also receive a certified copy of the marriage license within a few weeks of its return.
Every state has different laws governing when the marriage license is issued, can be completed, and must be returned. There are three types of laws that define these parameters, they are the marriage license Waiting Period, Return Deadline, and Expiration.
The marriage license waiting period refers to laws that mandate the couple wait for a period of time between when they file for the marriage license and when they are able to complete and return it.
Some states, like California, have no waiting period, meaning the couple can get married on the same day that they file for the marriage license. In other states, like Wisconsin, the couple is required to wait six days to get married from the time they apply for their marriage license until the ceremony and signing of the document.
The marriage license expiration refers to laws that invalidate the marriage license if it has not been completed and returned within a set amount of time from when it was issued.
In Ohio the marriage license is valid for 60 days, meaning the couple should wait to file for the marriage license at least 60 days before the scheduled wedding date. In Nevada on the other hand, the marriage license is valid for an entire year.
The marriage license return refers to laws requiring that the marriage license be completed and returned before its expiration date or before a certain number of days have passed since the wedding ceremony.
Couples getting married in Hawaii must return the marriage license before it expires within its 30 day window, while marriage licenses in Texas must be returned within 10 days following the wedding.
The state marriage license table below provides all the pertinent marriage license information for each state, including the marriage license fee, issuance office, and laws governing its return.