Marriage License Basics and FAQsHow To Determine If Your Ordainment Is Valid In Your State
What Is A Marriage License?
A marriage license is a document that makes the marriage legitimate in the eyes of the law. Marriage licenses can differ slightly from county to county, but they generally follow the same, narrow format. The purpose of the license is to make the marriage official and to make a legal record of the wedding. The license serves as a government acknowledgement that the two parties listed on the document are contractually obligated to each other in a state of marital union.
Who Files for the Marriage License, and Where Do They Go?
The marriage couple will need to pick up their marriage license themselves. They will need to go to their county courthouse, wherever they live, and get their marriage license. You will not need to accompany them on this occasion, and in fact many counties around the country have a small wait-period of a few days – so the license itself may not be valid for a few days until after the couple receives the license – and then there will be a time-frame window that the license is active (often 60 days). Within this time-frame of an active marriage license, the couple will present the license to you, whereupon you will fill it out in tandem with the couple, sign your name, and then wish them well on their honeymoon.
How Should I Fill out the Marriage License?
1. Ask the couple to present their marriage license.
The couple should have already filed for the marriage license prior to the wedding date. They will pick it up and present the blank license to you along with detailed state and country-specific instructions on how to fill it out, any relevant timelines, and the process for returning a completed license.
2. Confirm that the marriage license is valid.
All states have different laws governing the window of time during which the marriage license is valid and can be signed. For example, in Washington State, there is a 3-day wait period until the license is valid, whereupon the license is active for 60 days, and after it’s signed it must be returned within 30 days. All of these deadlines are significant, and the marriage couple will need to figure out exactly what they are responsible for. You can check state marriage laws in our data base, and/or call your local county courthouse directly.
3. Complete and sign the marriage license..
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. If the marriage license asks for your title, write “Minister.”
When you become ordained with North Shore Universal Church, you are accepted into our church as a minister. It is with this title, Minister, that you have the authority to perform marriage, and your “Church Affiliation” will be with us: North Shore Universal Church.
If you’re asked whether the proceeding will be “Civil or Religious,” you should answer that you will be performing a “Religious” ceremony. You can characterize your denominational beliefs as you best determine. 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 ceremony is only registered as “Civil” when it has been performed by a judge or other officer of the court.
Many states require that one or two 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.
4. Return the marriage license to its issuance office.
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.
How to Confirm the Marriage is Legally Recorded?
After the couple’s marriage license is returned to its issuance office, they will make a copy and then file the original with a state-level government office. In most states this is the Bureau of Vital Statistics or Department of Health. The couple should also receive a certified copy of the marriage license within a few weeks of its return.
What is a Marriage Certificate?
Marriage licenses are different than marriage certificates. A marriage license is a legal document and is issued by the government and can only be obtained by the couple. A minister cannot get this document for the couple.
The marriage license acknowledges that a legal ceremony took place. After the wedding, the license is signed by both the couple and the minister and needs to be returned to the government office that issued it for filing.
A marriage certificate, on the other hand, is not actually an official document, and is instead more akin to a souvenir. Marriage certificates usually have an artistic or polished appearance and generally include much less information than a marriage license. A marriage certificate is purely decorative, and is often used by couples to commemorate the special day of their wedding. We have several styles of Marriage Certificates in our Church Store.
How Can I Be Confident That The Weddings I Officiate Will Be Legal?
Under current U.S. laws, marriages can generally be performed by either a government or religious official. Our organization, North Shore Ministries, is considered a religious organization because we are registered as a church at both the state and federal level. Our church beliefs are simple and inclusive, and you can find them here.
Some states will require you personally to register as a licensed minister of a church. This is your responsibility, we cannot do this for you, and neither can the couple whose wedding you are to perform. However, it is the couple’s responsibility to acquire their wedding license and they will present it to you before or after their wedding. Depending on the state, this should be done by the couple or the officiant, in person or by mail. So please be available if the couple asks you to accompany them to the courthouse to deposit the signed marriage license. When the couple receives their marriage license, they will also receive instructions on how to properly return the completed license.
You can find our thorough list of necessary steps and additional measures that you may take to ensure a successful wedding here on our Marriage License page.
These States Will Require You To Register As A Licensed Minister Of Our Church
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- West Virginia