While the terms “marriage license” and “marriage certificate” may sound like they could be used interchangeably, the two documents are very different, legally speaking. The better you understand the differences between the two documents the better prepared you will be for what comes before and after you exchange your vows.
What is a Marriage License?
You must procure a marriage license prior to your marriage ceremony. It is, quite literally, the document that grants you permission to get married. Most U.S. states have their own requirements for a couple to obtain this permission. In most states, for instance, you must both be over the age of 18 in order to qualify for a marriage license. Other states will have additional requirements. In some states, marriage licenses are valid for only 30 days while others are issued for up to one year. Make sure you know the requirements of the state in which you wish to be married before obtaining your marriage license.
You should note, however, that this document only provides you with legally recognized permission to marry. It does not provide legal proof that you have been married. This is the document you need prior to the marriage ceremony.
What is a Marriage Certificate?
A marriage certificate serves as proof that you are, in fact, married. The marriage certificate is generally signed by the wedding officiator in the county where your marriage ceremony took place. The certificate affirms the following information:
- That you were married according to local regulations.
- There were witnesses to the ceremony.
- That you presented a valid marriage license prior to the ceremony.
You should receive an official copy of the certificate within two to four weeks in most counties, though some counties may take up to eight weeks to deliver the official document.
This is a vital document to have once you are married. It is legal proof that you are married. You will need it in the following instances, and perhaps a few others.
- Changing your name after the wedding.
- To claim legal married status for tax purposes.
- To claim Medicaid benefits.
- For legal immigration or Green Card applications.
Because you may need your marriage certificate for many occasions throughout your lives as a married couple, it is wise to obtain multiple copies for your personal records and to have them on an as-needed basis.
How Do You Get Copies of Your Marriage Certificate?
Since it is wise to obtain several copies of your marriage certificate, you’ll want to know how to order them. The easiest method is to visit the county clerk’s office in the county where the ceremony occurred. However, if that is not possible, you can order copies of your marriage certificate online. Some counties allow you to do this directly.
This is a legal document that needs to be treated as such and stored securely in your home. If you’re conducting a ceremony that crosses international borders, you may need to have copies of the documented translated to serve as proof of marriage in both countries.
It’s important to understand that both documents are equally important to the marriage process. You can’t get married without the marriage license and you can’t prove that you are married without the marriage certificate.
How Does the Process Work When Getting Married Online?
Some U.S. counties allow online marriages. However, you do not need to live in those counties in order to get married online. You can reside anywhere and apply for a marriage license, conduct an online wedding via Zoom, and then have the wedding officiator register your marriage with the county clerk’s office. All you need for your marriage to be legally valid and binding is the following:
- A legal marriage license.
- A valid and legal wedding ceremony (according to the laws of the state where the license is issued).
- Registration of the marriage in the county.
- A marriage certificate issued according to the rules of the state.
MarryFromHome follows the legal process every step of the way, so you can enjoy greater peace of mind and focus on building your new life together instead of sweating the small details.