Marriage Licenses vs. Certificates: What’s the Difference?

Marriage Licenses vs. Certificates: What’s the Difference?

While booking the venue and planning the perfect wedding is fun, they’re not the only things you have to consider. Weddings are a ceremony and a legal process, so you need to acquire proper documentation to have the union recognized in the eyes of the law. But what’s the difference between a marriage license and a certificate? Keep reading this post to learn more, plus how you can get yours!

Marriage Licenses vs. Certificates: What’s the Difference?

What Is a Marriage License?

A marriage license is one of the essentials to bring on the wedding day, and it proves that you and your partner can legally marry. Couples must get it before the ceremony, and most couples find this convenient because it’s easier since it requires several signatures. These signatures will come from you, your partner, the officiant, and two witnesses. Typically, couples will obtain their marriage license before the ceremony, then get all the necessary signatures after the ceremony as guests enjoy cocktail hour.

How To Get a Marriage License

To acquire a marriage license, you’ll have to make a trip to the county clerk’s office, city hall, or another government-owned location. This differs from state to state, so investigate the requirements for the area you plan to get married in.

As you look into this, inquire how long it will take to get the license since some areas have waiting periods. Also, the information needs to be updated, so you shouldn’t go more than 90 days before the wedding. However, you also shouldn’t wait until the last minute in the event there’s a delay.

Bridal Tip

You don’t want to get your license too soon because, in most states, it will expire after a set number of days—typically, 60 days.

Requirement for a Marriage License

You need your photo ID, parental information—last names and dates of birth—and proof of citizenship or residence. If you were previously married, you’d also need to bring any divorce papers or certificates of a late spouse’s death. Both of you will need to present this paperwork and information as you fill out your application. Also, ensure you bring the required payment fee; this can range from $10 to $110, depending on the state.

Why Is the Marriage License Important?

The marriage license is permission to continue the union and verifies that both parties consent. It also provides proof that neither person is underage or already married. In other words, it confirms that both individuals are at least 18 years old and can legally marry one another. Without a marriage license, the government will not recognize the union, and you won’t receive a marriage certificate.

What Happens at the Ceremony?

You’ll need to bring your marriage license to the ceremony to hand it to the officiant after all required individuals sign it. This individual will deliver it to the county clerk for certification. Once this gets approved, the state will send you your marriage certificate.

Destination Weddings and Acquiring a Marriage License

When it comes to destination weddings, the way you get your marriage license depends on the location. Sometimes, couples marrying abroad need to get a license in their home state and have a civil ceremony before the public wedding. This means your true anniversary won’t be the same day as the ceremony. However, you may feel attached and want the wedding and ceremony date on the same day. If that’s the case, you can also apply for a marriage license in that country and then have it authenticated once you get home; however, this is expensive and time-consuming.

If your destination wedding is simply in another state, you’ll need to supply the following proof for a marriage license in the state where you’ll be getting married:

  • A filled-out marriage license application
  • Photo ID
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Parental information

If the marriage follows the state’s requirements, you can legally get married.

Bridal Tip

Different states may have slightly different laws or require additional paperwork. Because of this, we recommend you investigate the marriage laws for your state to ensure you gather everything you need.

Marriage Licenses vs. Certificates: What’s the Difference?

What Is a Marriage Certificate?

A marriage certificate is a document you’ll receive after the ceremony once the license gets legally approved. This document is as important as the license. Why? Because while the license proves that both union members have permission to get married, the marriage certificate confirms that the wedding occurred. Your marriage certificate is the document that legally binds you to your partner.

Why Are Marriage Certificates Important?

A marriage certificate confirms that you and your partner have a legal marriage. You’ll need proof of this to apply for:

  • Various types of insurance
  • Health benefits
  • Social security
  • Credit cards
  • Name changes
  • Bank accounts
  • Tax breaks

Many experts advise that you have multiple copies of your marriage certificate in case you lose one or it somehow gets destroyed. If this occurs, you can request another from the county clerk.

Changing Your Last Name

Many women take their husband’s last name after getting married, but some couples choose to hyphenate or adopt a new last name together. You’ll need to bring your marriage certificate, social security card, and ID to change your last name legally.

How To Get Copies of these Documents

Now that we’ve talked about the difference between a marriage license vs. a certificate, let’s talk about what you should do if you lose either or one gets destroyed.

Acquiring a New Marriage License

You’ll have a lot on your mind in the days leading up to the wedding, so ensure you keep the license in a secure location that’s easy to access. Ideally, you should store it in a folder in a file cabinet or safe drawer so you don’t lose it. But accidents happen, and if you lose your license before the big day, you’ll need to file for a duplicate in the location you got the original. Keep in mind that this may come with a fee, and the rules surrounding the process vary from state to state.

Bridal Tip

On the big day, entrust your marriage license to a wedding party member, such as the maid of honor or best man. You and your partner will have a lot on your minds, and you don’t want to risk misplacing it.

Acquiring a New Marriage Certificate

Like obtaining a new marriage license, this process differs in each state, but you typically need to contact the city or county clerk where you got married. They’ll inform you what information you need to supply and whether to do so by mail, online, or in person so you can get a new copy of the certificate.

Marriage Licenses vs. Certificates: What’s the Difference?

The Bottom Line: Protect These Documents

Although you can request another copy of your marriage certificate should you need it, you should always keep it somewhere safe. Because of this, your marriage certificate, along with other crucial documents, should remain in a locked fireproof box for protection. Your marriage license and certificate are important and prove that you and your partner are in a union or plan to begin one. Keep this paperwork safe so you don’t have to worry about anything happening to it.

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Everyday Bride

Freelance Writer
June 16, 2022

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