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Marriage licenses are legal documents that couples get before starting their union. Following the giving of vows by both partners in a ceremony, they are provided a certificate signed in full view of witnesses, officiators, and the congregation. Once the document has been signed by both and returned by the officiant, the marriage certificate is issued. It is important to note the difference between marriage licenses and certificates. The license comes first as it represents the application by the couple to be married. When the ceremony is done, it is returned to the county, the certificate is issued. Unlike the marriage certificate, which is valid for the duration of the union, the license is viable for a limited period, depending on the state of issuance. The majority of states maintain that a marriage license is valid for 30 to 60 days. Considering the urgency of the ceremony, most get the license a week or days before the ceremony.
The required documents may vary slightly, but general requirements are usually the same for citizens and foreigners. Immigrants who still have their civil records in a foreign language must first have their documents translated into English. Non-citizens also have to ascertain if their home nation needs special documents so their country would recognize their union. The common documents usually include government-issued identification, proof of residence, birth certificate, proof of age, medical test results, and proof of license fee payment. In the cases where the persons are under the official age of maturity within the state, written consent by a judge or parent would be necessary though it would depend on the case. If one or both individuals are a year less than the official age of maturity, and there is legal consent from guardians, it may be issued. However, minors over two years below the specified age would probably not be allowed to do so. Parties, not citizens, should also contact their embassies to see if they have met the country's requirements. The embassy can also prepare documents when applying for a marriage license.
Before one can get a marriage license, the when and where of the ceremony is a significant consideration. The reason is that parties must file the license application in the county where they will be getting married. It is also due to the expiration provisions. If the marriage license expires within 40 days, it would be wise to wait to apply for it until one of the locations and other itineraries are set. Otherwise, time may lapse, meaning having to apply for the license all over again. It should not also be done at the last minute, considering it takes a few days from filing for the permit to getting the document. Once the when and where have been settled, the next thing would be visiting the county clerk.
If all of the documents are in order, the visit to the clerk's office should take a short time. Each state has its requirements for marriage licenses, so it would be pertinent to confirm what is needed by the local county clerk before going in. Aside from the typical documents, some states require the presence of a witness for the license application. This may be a friend or close relative, depending on who is available at the time. Should it not be the person's first marriage, they will have to supply a divorce or death certificate as proof they can remarry. People under the age of 18 will also have to supply legal documentation from a guardian or magistrate to show they can indeed marry. The fees for marriage licenses, depending on the state, ranging from $35 to $150. Some forget to bring cash or checks to the appointment, and most clerk offices do not accept credit cards.
The marriage license may inquire if there will be a change of name. Considering it is a sensitive topic, discussing the matter thoroughly before filing for one is advised. Waiting to decide and change the name after the wedding is also possible.
It may take a few days between applying to receiving the license, depending on the county clerk's office hours and related processes. Applicants may pick up their licenses in person or get them in the mail within a few days.
Once the marriage license has been delivered, bringing it to the wedding ceremony is crucial. To avoid any hitches, it may be kept by the officiant if they are a priest or designated witnesses to the ceremony prior to the wedding. The couple, witnesses, and officiator will sign the marriage license following the vows. In most cases, the best man and maid of honor act as witnesses to the couple. It is not a legal requirement, but the witnesses have to be at least 18 years of age. The officiant as well may be the justice of the peace, magistrate, county clerk, or an authorized person of their religious denomination. The officiant then gives the marriage license to be certified by local officials for certification.
There is some confusion concerning the difference between marriage licenses and certificates. Licenses are applied before the ceremony to allow the wedding to take place. Certificates are issued after the ceremony as proof the couple is joined in a legal union. Marriage certificates are provided following the certification of the marriage license. In some states, the certificate is sent automatically to the married couple in the mail. In other jurisdictions, the copies have to be purchased and ordered despite being available. Marriage certificates come in handy as they are proof of unions and are required in mortgage applications, tax filing, corporation setups, insurance, and even some employment onboarding. One may also contact the county clerk to order more certified copies of the marriage certificate if they are needed at any time later on.