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Is It Possible to Get Married Without a Marriage License?

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in LawMarch 29, 2023

You'll need a marriage license if you’re heading to Vegas or Hawaii for your nuptial. Marriage licenses are more than optional forms; they’re necessary for legitimate marriages. Without one, your state and the federal government may not recognize you and your partner as “married.” Subsequently, there are ramifications for this. Things like inheritance, businesses, and taxes are all impacted by a valid marriage license.

Can you get married without a marriage license? Yes and no; couples can have a ceremony to celebrate their relationship and future. However, the government and institutions like banks and loan providers won’t recognize the marriage as legitimate until the marriage license is fulfilled, valid, and notarized.

Is It Possible to Get Married Without a Marriage License?

Can you get married without a marriage license? Yes, but it won’t be a legally-recognized event. Some officiants may convert a marriage ceremony into a commitment ceremony; however, some may also change the work price at the event. Additionally, because it is a commitment ceremony, it is not a “marriage,” which means the bride and groom must hold another event later: their actual marriage ceremony.

What is a Marriage License?

To better understand the role of a marriage license in the process, we can examine marriages themselves. Marriage is a formal, government-recognized contract between two (and sometimes more) people. A marriage contract can include various vital records and documents; such are the cases of prenuptial agreements, which usually list each person’s property in the case of a later divorce.

Many times a marriage can impact other documents already recognized by the state. Vital records must change when necessary. For example, a person becoming married and changing their name must undergo that process. Social security cards, passports, bank accounts, postal documents, utility bills, and more require updated information about nuptial changes. Please notify an institution of the change to avoid issues later on, which can culminate in legal battles.

Can a pastor marry a couple without a marriage license? Yes and no; an officiant cannot hold a “real” wedding ceremony without the documentation. If they proceed with the ceremony and refer to it as a “wedding,” they may be on the hook for a misdemeanor charge. Officiants mitigate the legal problems this may bring by stripping the ceremony of everything referencing a “marriage or wedding”; they may choose instead to focus on love and commitment rather than the contract and ceremony.

can you get married without a marriage license

Do You Need a Marriage License to Get Married?

In 41 states, it is necessary to obtain a marriage license to get married; this includes the steps of obtaining an application and the signatures of essential parties. These include a signature from the bride and groom, the wedding officiant, and two witnesses. However, the couple can avoid these necessities by living in a qualifying “informal marriage” state.

Also called “common law marriages,” informal marriages are legal in nine states; these include the District of Columbia, Colorado, South Carolina, Utah, Texas, Montana, Rhode Island, Iowa, and Kansas. Meanwhile, special circumstances may make these marriages legal outside of these states; Oklahoma and New Hampshire recognize them for inheritance purposes, while some Native American tribes may also practice them.

Common law marriages are a distinct type of contract; they are not recognized in more than 40 states due to their complications. Informal marriage contracts do not protect either partner, which binds legal proceedings and judges. No legal paperwork cites what partner “owns” what property, so cohabitations and “shared property” are sold during a breakup. The revenue is usually split down the middle.

Can you get married without a marriage license? Yes and no; in some states, it is possible to have a valid marriage status without the paperwork. However, the states allowing these marriage contracts have additional legal problems. In the case of a “divorce,” the couple usually breaks up—and the marriage is no longer valid after two years.

Can You Get Married if You Lost Your Marriage License?

There are multiple aspects to a valid marriage contract. Couples first buy an application, or a license, then that license becomes a certified legal document called a marriage certificate. The application, license, and certificate are necessary for a verifiable marriage. Generally, couples apply to their county clerk’s office and are given or mailed the license.

A marriage license, properly spoken about, refers to the document needed for the wedding signing. This is where the signatures of the couple, the officiant, and two witnesses matter. If the couple loses their unsigned license before the marriage, they will need to get another—often with another application and more fees. On the other hand, if the license is lost after signing but before notarization, each party will need to resign to validate the license again.

Do you need a marriage license to get married?Yes and no; if you live in a state allowing non-documented marriages, then no. However, if you live in one of the other 40+ states, you will need it to be legally married. It must be signed and submitted to the county clerk’s office for verification and notarization. Usually, these signings happen at or during the wedding ceremony.

Can a pastor marry a couple without a marriage license? Yes and no; proper officiants don’t like to face legal ramifications for missing signatures and documents. It is on the couple to fulfill the process, to completion. Counties have deadlines for submitting documents to the county clerk’s office. (To see the deadlines in your area, visit your municipal website.)

If improperly planned, the couple may forget to submit their license. This would result in an incomplete status of the nuptial: a complete dismissal of the process up to that point. In other words, even if an officiant proceeds with a marriage ceremony if the couple doesn’t finish the process—their marriage can be voided.

Can You Get Married if You Forgot to Bring Your Marriage License to the Ceremony?

If the couple forgets to bring their marriage license to the ceremony, they still have options. Although bringing it and signing it at the ceremony is best, this isn’t always possible. Depending on the officiant, they may allow the signing before the ceremony; if this is the case, the ceremony would be a valid “wedding.” In contrast, many officiants do not allow after-wedding fulfillment—this would run them afoul of federal and state laws.

A lot of information has been presented thusfar, so, here’s a wrap-up of all of it:

  • Can you get married without a marriage license? No, only if you and your partner qualify for a special circumstance in specific states.
  • Do you need a marriage license to get married? Yes, you’ll get the license after filing an application, which frees you to obtain a certificate.
  • Can a pastor marry a couple without a marriage license? No, weddings without a marriage license become commitment ceremonies.

The world of legal navigation and our roles within it can be challenging. Check out our other articles and blogs to learn more about the world around you; a proactive approach to most situations will set you up for success.

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