Public Vs. Confidential Marriage Licenses

by Mandy Brown ; Updated September 28, 2017

Before a couple can legally marry, they must obtain a marriage license from a county clerk or clerk of the court. Two types of licenses are available: the public marriage license and the confidential marriage license.


Most couples who marry will receive a public marriage license. The couple must appear together at the appropriate county office with current valid identification. Once they obtain the license, they have permission from the state agency to marry. A confidential marriage license is available only to couples who have already been living together as a married couple. The other requirements are much the same as the public license, but a notary may also issue the license in addition to the county office.


Once signed and returned, a public marriage license becomes public record and available for anyone to view. A confidential license does not become public record and is only available for view by the couple or by court order. This type of license is typically for high profile marriages or those in an occupation or social position where they would not like to have their private information made public.


Once you obtain a license, whether it is public or confidential, it does not mean you are officially married. Licenses are valid for a certain period of time, usually around 60 to 90 days. The official who conducts the ceremony must sign the license. Once signed, the original copy must be returned to the county office within 10 days.

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About the Author

Mandy Brown began writing in 2009. She has written for the health publication "Chicken Soup" as well as the magazine "All Things Financial." Her writing interests range from health and wellness to finance, the industry in which she works. After earning her bachelor's degree in business management, she went on to receive her Master of Business Administration from the University of Tennessee.