While couples are able to keep their marriage records confidential in some cases, the vast majority of marriage certificates are public. Who can view public marriage records? Members of the public, and that includes you. It's easier to view records in some states than others, since some offer an online database. But in every state, you can review public records at the appropriate court or registrar offices during business hours.
Public Marriage Records
In most states, marriage records, like divorce records, are public records and can be viewed by any member of the public. And marriage records are usually much shorter. If you think about typical marriages and divorces, it's easy to understand why divorce files are much more extensive than marriage records. The termination of a marriage involves evidence and arguments about many issues including property division, family support, child custody and visitation issues and, in some states, a determination of fault issues in fault-based divorces.
A marriage is a "beginning" event – a different animal altogether. In general, any serious issues between a to-be-married couple are yet to arise. The marriage "records" usually only include the application for a marriage license and the marriage certificate. In some states, these are both considered public and open to review by the public. In others, like Georgia, only the marriage certificate is public.
Viewing Public Marriage Records
You can view public marriage records in the manner authorized by the state or county. Many counties permit interested members of the public to come to the vital records office or the recorder/registrar and review them. For example, in Los Angeles County, any member of the public can examine marriage certificates and indexes of marriage records (those not exempt from public inspections). You simply have to visit the Office of the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk during weekday business hours.
You can also write to the appropriate agency and request a copy as long as you enclose a description of the marriage and pay the fee. If you want to write for vital records but are not sure where to send your correspondence, the CDC's
In some states, some counties offer an online searchable database of their public records, including public marriage records. In Volusia County, Florida, for example, you can search by name, date of the marriage, document name and/or document number.
It's also possible, for a fee, to utilize private online companies that offer to search public marriage records for you. While some of these companies may provide a useful service at a modest fee, others do not. Be careful if you decide to use such online services, making sure not to provide unnecessary personal financial information.
With a Master's in English, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's law school, Teo Spengler is up on education. She splits her home time between San Francisco and France. A perpetual student and frequent teacher, she is also a writer and world traveler. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Fairmont Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites.