How Do I Get Married at the Justice of the Peace in Erie County, Pennsylvania?

by Merle Huerta

If you're engaged and planning to marry in Erie County, Pennsylvania, heed the advice of the former football coach, Vince Lombardi: "Plan your work and work your plan.” The state of Pennsylvania has some of the most stringent marriage laws in the country, laws that itemize what documents you have to provide when you apply for a marriage license, some that dictate who can marry you and many that govern whom you can marry. In fact, the Erie Marriage License Bureau recommends you begin the process of applying for your marriage license at least a month before you exchange matrimonial vows.

Survey vital records you have on hand. In Erie County, you have to provide proof of identity. A photo identification like a driver's license, a passport or a state ID is fine. You must additionally provide a social security card, an original birth certificate with a raised Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seal and copies of your tax returns. If you don't have your birth certificate or a social security card, you’ll need to order both, each of which can take two to four weeks to arrive. If you were born in Pennsylvania, you can order a birth certificate from the Erie County Clerk's office. A social security card must be ordered through the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Provide a divorce decree if you were married and divorced before. If you're a widow or widower, bring the original marriage license and death certificate. Both of these documents can be researched and ordered through the Erie County Clerk's Office. If you were married or divorced in another state, you’ll have to order an original copy. If either applicant is divorced, or divorced more than once, you must bring in your Divorce Decree(s). As a woman, if you resumed your maiden name after a divorce, you must submit legal proof.

Know the marriage laws in Pennsylvania. Much of the legislation prohibits consanguineous relationships, where both partners share familial blood. Marriage between parents and children, siblings, aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews and first cousins are prohibited. However, marriage between first cousins once removed is permitted. Legislation also forbids marriage if either applicant for a license is weak minded, insane, of unsound mind or under guardianship as a person of unsound mind. In addition, no one will be issued a license if under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Bring a custodial parent or guardian to the Erie County Marriage Bureau or County Clerk's Office if you or your fiancee is under age 18. The custodial parent must provide written consent before the clerk issues the license. If the custodial parent or guardian can't be present, consent can be attested by two adult witnesses. If you're a minor and no custodial parent or guardian exists, the County Clerk's Office can assign you a guardian who will assess the legitimacy of your application and whether you and your fiancee are of sound mind to marry.

Find a justice of the peace, one who complies with Pennsylvania Officiant Laws. According to Pennsylvania law, an officiant can be a Commonwealth judge, either active or retired, a major of any Pennsylvania city or borough, a minister, priest or rabbi of any established church or congregation. Pennsylvania law states that every religious society, institution or organization may marry a couple when at least one of the persons is a member of that organization, institution or society. If you don't know where to begin, there are some services that help to match you up with an officiant who fits guidelines that you set.

Apply for a marriage license at the Erie Office of the County Clerk. Bring all of the required documentation that pertains to your individual situation and bring an adult witness. After you complete the marriage license application, there is a three-day waiting period before the application is mailed out. This allows the clerk's office to verify the legitimacy of your application and documentation. When the license arrives in the mail, you have 60 days to marry before it expires.

Get married. The officiant or justice of the peace must sign the original marriage certificate and must return it to you and your spouse. A duplicate marriage certificate must be signed by the officiant and returned within 10 days to the court that issued the license.

Set up a marriage budget and calculate potential expenses you might incur in the marriage and licensing process. As of August 2010, the cost for a marriage license in Erie County is $45, paid in cash. An officiant's fee can range from $200 to $700. A birth certificate costs $10 per certificate. Death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees vary in price from $25 to $45. Though individual expenses are nominal compared to the cost of a large wedding, together they add up. You should plan a budget that considers a wide range of possible expenses so that you're not blind-sighted. Most of all, at the end of the process, be happy that the two of you created and worked a plan together.

Items you will need

  • Birth certificate
  • Tax returns
  • Divorce decrees
  • Adoption records
  • Social security card

About the Author

Merle Huerta, an adjunct instructor of English skills, began writing during her husband's combat deployment to Iraq in 2003. Her articles have appeared in "The Jerusalem Post," and USA Travel Tips, among other publications. Huerta has an M.A. in instructional media and technology from Columbia University and is a graduate of CUNY's The Writers Institute.

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