Some people marry for love, some people marry for money, and others marry for all sorts of reasons. Whatever the motivation behind it may be, marriage is essentially a legal merger between two individuals who have agreed to share a life together. Married couples are legally bound to one another, which is why marriage requires the filling out and filing of legal documentation to make it official.
The Marriage Process
To get married, couples must first apply for a marriage license with their local clerk of courts. Once the marriage license is issued, the couple has a certain window of time in which to sign the license, have it notarized and then return it to the court, where it is recorded and a marriage certificate issued. Most couples choose to have a wedding or some type of ceremony to celebrate the marriage before filing the completed license with the courts, but that is entirely optional.
Application to Marry
The first step for a couple who want to get married is to fill out an application for a marriage license. Most counties allow couples to complete part of the application online, but the process must be completed in person before the marriage license is issued. The marriage license application typically asks for each partner’s full legal name, date of birth, race, country of birth, city and state of residence, Social Security number and whether or not either person has been married before.
The completed application must be presented in person, along with identification, to the clerk of courts. Couples must pay a marriage license fee, and the information in the application is verified, then notarized by an official in the clerk of courts, who will then issue the marriage license. Fees and special requirements vary by county, so be sure to check with your local clerk of courts to ensure that you are properly prepared before heading over to get your license.
License to Marry
A marriage license is the document that authorizes a couple to get married. The marriage license is only valid for a particular amount of time, which varies by county, so it must be completed and returned within the designated time frame. To complete the marriage license, both parties who are entering the marriage must sign it, along with the notary public who performed the ceremony and one or two witnesses. Most couples choose to sign the marriage license after the ceremony. The completed and notarized marriage license then goes back to the clerk of courts so that it can be recorded, after which a marriage certificate is issued.
Certificate of Marriage
The marriage certificate is issued once the clerk of courts has received and processed the completed marriage license. While the marriage license authorizes the couple to get married, it is the marriage certificate that serves as official, legal proof of the marriage. In most counties, the local government office fills out the information for the marriage certificate and then mails it to the newly married couple within a few weeks of receiving the marriage license.
Unofficial Marriage Certificates
Some religious organizations provide couples with a certificate of marriage as a keepsake for display purposes. Couples can also print their own marriage certificates, but the only legally binding marriage certificate is the one issued by the clerk of courts.
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- A marriage license is a document giving you permission to get married. The marriage certificate is a record your marriage exists.
Kristina Barroso is a middle school English teacher, published author and freelance writer with experience in a wide range of subjects. She loves writing about parenting, relationships, education and more for publications like The Classroom and WorkingMother.