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Navigating the Premarital Paperwork: The Marriage License Process

The Marriage License ProcessAdopted by the United Nations in December 2013, Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.[1]” Simply put, consenting human beings of a particular age have the right to marry. That said, the sanctioning of marriage is controlled by governments.

Licensing background in the United States

In the United States, common-law marriages were once recognized as legal and valid, but by the mid-19th Century, some states began to invalidate the practice of common-law marriages. Interestingly, the states of North Carolina and Tennessee (Tennessee was once part of North Carolina) never recognized marriage at the common law as legitimate. Today, the federal government mandates that marriages be recognized from state to state. Further, a movement remains afoot that ensures that states have some sort of conformity with marriage laws and licensing practices.

Marriage license procedure

Given the numerous items that every engaged couple must contend with, obtaining the marriage license can often feel like the most daunting. While every county in the United States has a different process for legally authorizing a couple’s nuptials, there are some common threads in the process. This article will help you find your way through the legal process that marks the premarital period. When in doubt, ask questions.

Step 1– Can I marry?

If you plan on getting married in the United States, know who you are authorized to marry in the United States. Given sweeping changes in recent years, heterosexual and homosexual partners may marry. However, some individuals who cannot give informed consent, specifically those with significant mental disabilities, may not be able to marry. Age is also an important consideration. In most states, 18 is the legal age of marriage. In a few states, individuals younger than the age of 18 may marry with parental consent before marrying. In the great state of Nebraska, the legal age to marry is 19. Persons younger than 19 must obtain notarized parental consent. It is also important to ensure that you are not closely related to the individual that you intend on marrying. Most states will not allow marriage to an individual who is closely related to you.

Step 2– Terminate current marriages

We hate to mention this, but some individuals still do not realize that an existing marriage must be terminated before you consider a second marriage. If you are currently married in the eyes of the court, it is illegal to remarry. And did we mention just plain immoral? Before you move on to a second, third, or subsequent marriage, please ensure that any “old ones” are legally finished. Your new spouse thanks you too.

Step 3– Establish your identity

All states and counties will insist on proof of identity when you apply for a marriage license. Some jurisdictions may require multiple forms of identification. In most cases, you will also be required to provide your Social Security Number. This does not necessarily mean that you will have to produce a physical card. Often, tax returns help establish “SSN to the court.Passports, driver’s licenses, military id cards, and the like serve as suitable examples of identification. Some states will ask to see a valid birth certificate.  Do not wait until the week of the marriage to try to obtain all of these documents if you do not have them.

Where do you get your marriage license?

Before the blessed document can be placed in the mail, partners need to know where one must go to obtain a marriage license. In most judicatories, marriage licenses may be obtained by appearing in person at the county court which is typically situated at the county seat. The license seeker must present appropriate identification to the clerk of court or the clerk’s designee and then render payment for the license. Some states allow outside agencies and vendors to interact with partners interested in obtaining a marriage license. Of all states, Nevada appears to have the most flexible marriage license guidelines.

How long does it take to apply for a marriage license?

Because most marriage license issuances presuppose a detailed records search, it may be several hours or as many as several days before the license is available for the couple’s pick-up and use. In some states, multiple copies of the document will be issued to the couple with the caveat that several of the signed copies are returned to the appropriate registrar’s. Below is a list of states that currently have waiting periods for obtaining a marriage license.

Alaska: three (3) business days

Delaware: 24 hours. If both of you are nonresidents, there is a 96 hours waiting period.

District of Columbia: Five (5) days

Florida: No waiting period for Florida residents have both completed a state sanctioned marriage preparation course within the last 12 months. There is a three-day waiting period for Florida residents who have not taken the course. Out-of-State residents should obtain a license from their home state prior to Florida wedding.

Illinois: 24 hours

Iowa: Three (3) business days

Kansas: Three (3) days

Louisiana: 72 hours. Out-of-state couples can get married in New Orleans without the 72-hour wait.

Maryland: 48 hours

Massachusetts: Three (3) days

Michigan: Three (3) days

Minnesota: Five (5) days

Mississippi: None

Missouri: Three (3) days

New Hampshire: Three (3) days

New Jersey: 72 hours

New York: 24 hours

Oregon: Three (3) days

Pennsylvania: Three (3) days

South Carolina: 24 hours

Texas: 72 hours

Washington: Three (3) days

Wisconsin: Six (6) days

Wyoming: None

Final thoughts

Do not be discouraged, friend, you will get married. However sometimes it takes ample time to gather the appropriate documentation and wait for the issuance of a license. If you paid attention to the information above, you will “get it done.” 


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