How Does a Marriage License Work?

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Couples Presents Documentation

A couple that is engaged to be married gathers all of the required legal documents and goes to a city clerk in the state where the ceremony will be performed. The legal documents they will need are proof of birth and citizenship, a driver's license or other photo ID and proof of divorce if they have been married before. Some states require certain medical records in order to obtain a license. Other things you must be able to prove before obtaining a license is that both parties are old enough to get married or have parental consent, and that they are not closely related. Both parties must sign the document in the presence of the city or town official. The couple will pay a processing fee for the license that varies from state to state.

Processing the License

The clerk's office will run the information through a database to ensure that the people are who they say they are and they are not currently married. This is not fool proof, but it does eliminate some fraud.
The couple must wait the amount of time required by the locality. A typical wait is one day to a week. The license is generally valid for up to two months after it is obtained, so you can secure it weeks in advance if need be. If one or both parties plans to change his or her name with the marriage, it is recorded on the marriage license so that the marriage certificate will contain the new name, which will serve as proof for banking and social security purposes.

Filing the Marriage Certificate

After obtaining the license, the couple may get married within the state where they applied for the license. They must have two witnesses and a civil or religious official who is certified and registered to marry the couple within the state must perform the marriage.

After the marriage ceremony, the couple is issued a certificate and the person who performed the ceremony files the marriage license. If the certificate is not filed, your marriage may be considered invalid unless you can prove that you were married. In this case, your witnesses may be called on to help prove your case.