How to Get a Marriage License: 5 Things You Need to Know

In the midst of wedding planning, it’s easy to forget that you need to make your marriage legal on paper. A marriage license is the official document that legally binds you and your soon-to-be-husband together. If you’re changing your name, this document will be invaluable.

Marriage License vs Marriage Certificate

A marriage license is an application to be married. This is the first document you get in the process of legalizing your marriage. You’ll fill it out, have your ceremony, get it signed, and return it to the county. Afterwards, you’ll receive a marriage certificate. A marriage certificate is the document you get after your wedding that proves you’re married.

How to Get a Marriage License

Obtaining a marriage license and your marriage certificate is a multistep process. While the exact steps and documents you need vary from state to state, the general process is similar. Be sure to check the official website of your state and county to find out the specifics for where you’re getting married.

Here’s a breakdown of the 5 things you need to know about how to get a marriage license.

bride and groom holding hands during a marriage ceremony
Photo by Ben Tran Photography

1. Determine when you need to start the process.

Before you get a marriage license, you need to have the date and location of your wedding ceremony figured out. In some states, you need to file your marriage license in the county you’re getting married in. If you’re getting married in Pennsylvania, a marriage license is valid in any county in the state, but can’t be used out of state.

Marriage licenses expire. You’ll want to make sure you start the process ahead of time. You want to be sure you have time to complete the process and have your ceremony in the acceptable period of time.

Brides Tip: If you’re getting a marriage license in Pennsylvania, the license must used within sixty (60) days of the date that appears on the license. If it’s not used within 60 days, you have to return the license and start the process over again.

glass pitcher with wine next to a wedding program on a table
Photo by Ben Tran Photography

2. Bring the proper documentation with you to the county clerk.

Getting a marriage license is something you need to do in-person and both of you must be present. The process involves verifying that you’re both who you say you are and that you’re both able to legally be married. This can be a time consuming process. Check online and see if you can make an appointment ahead of time.

Here’s a list of the paperwork you’ll want to make sure you have. Double check with your local county clerk’s office to get the specific list of paperwork you need.

Proof of Identity

You’ll typically need to show either a valid driver’s license or passport. You may also be asked to show your social security card or a birth certificate. If either of you have legally changed your name previously, you need to have the certified decree of your name change.

Payment for the Fee

The fee for a marriage license can range from $15 to $100. The total fee depends on:

  • The state you’re getting married in

  • If one or both of you are a resident

  • If you’re an out-of-state applicant

Check with the county clerk’s office before you go to find out what the fee will be. Be sure to add this to your wedding budget.

Ability to Legally Marry

The clerk’s office will check to see whether this is your first marriage. If this isn’t your first marriage, you must provide a certificate of divorce or death certificate to be able to legally marry again.

After all the paperwork is finalized and the fee has been paid, you’ll be given a marriage license. Some states give you the license on the stop and others will send it to you in the mail.

Brides Tip: In Pennsylvania, you’ll need to bring a valid photo id and your social security card. If you don’t have a social security card or other acceptable official form, you need to have your birth certificate.

bride holding bouquet and groom standing at a pew in a church
Photo by Lauren Fair Associates

3. Decide whether you’re changing your name.

Changing your name is like getting a new identity. It’s a complicated process to begin with, but it’s much easier if you do it when you apply for your marriage license. If you choose to change your name on your marriage license, you have to decide your full official name – first, middle, last.

If you’re aren’t sure or don’t know what you want your new name to be, you can change it later on. Just know, it will be more expensive and more tedious to change it later on. Taking time to figure out any name changes before you get married will save you time and money in the long run.

single white rose with greenery tied with a blur ribbon on a church railing
Photo by Lauren Fair Associates

4. Get the necessary signatures on your wedding day.

Once you have your marriage license, in order to make it official it needs to be signed by the right people. The marriage license will have signature lines for everyone that needs to sign it. Here are the witness signatures commonly found on a marriage license.

The Bride and Groom

Try to make sure you sign the license immediately following the ceremony. That way no one forgets about it and you don’t have to interrupt the festivities later on to get it taken care of.

The Officiant

Whether it’s a religious leader, an ordained friend or a judge, whoever does the ceremony signs the license. They’ll need to put their signature and title.

Two Witnesses

This is anyone that is physically present at your wedding. It could be your parents, the best man and maid of honor, or your aunt and uncle. Your two witnesses have to be over 18. All they have to do is watch you sign and then add their sign saying they saw you sign.

Brides Tip: For an important document like this, your wedding planner or your officiant is the best person to be responsible for bringing this to the ceremony.

bride and groom standing in front of the past in a church at Christmas
Photo by Anne Buskirk

5. Submit your completed marriage license to the county.

After the appropriate parties have signed your marriage license, give it to your officiant. It’s their job to submit the license to the county clerk either in-person or by mail. Once the county clerk has processed your license, you’ll either be mailed a certified copy or go in person to pick it up. When you received your certified copy, make sure you keep it in a safe place. You’ll need to show this document for anything and everything related to changing your name on things like your:

  • Social security card
  • Marital status on insurance
  • Credit cards
  • Bank accounts
  • Passport
  • Taxes (the IRS)
How to get a marriage license: 5 things you need to know

Importance of Your Marriage License

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your marriage certificate in a safe place. Getting another copy will be a monumental project and will cause you a lot of hassle and headaches in the meantime.

Getting a marriage license and marriage certificate may seem like another thing on your to do list. But it’s an exciting step in the planning process! It’s a legal document that celebrates the love you share and the commitment you’ve made to each other.

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how to get a marriage license
5 steps you need to know about how to get a marriage license

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Hello, I’m Jenna!


Welcome to the JTE blog, where I share my favorite weddings and insider tips to make your wedding day simply swoon-worthy. Grab a cup of coffee (cream and sugar for me, please) and enjoy a virtual peek into my color-coded planning binder.

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