To be legally married you need a marriage license. Getting one varies from state to state and may vary by the county you live in. If you are planning a destination wedding you may need special help getting the license.
(Please note, I am not a lawyer so this is not legal advice. This is information I have gathered photographing many weddings and personal research.)
You cannot be legally married without a valid, signed marriage license and it must be present and handed to the officiant conducting the ceremony.
Getting the license can be a fair amount of work, so get several certified copies of the license at the time it is issued. Be sure to give a certified copy to someone you trust that will be at the ceremony as a backup. I have seen cases where the facility/officiant misplaced the license. The best is to be prepared and have a back-up. It is best to get it at least a week to 10 days before the wedding day. This will make sure you cover most waiting periods for licenses to be valid.
Some key points to note about the general process to get a license: There may be variations depending on where you live, so check with your local authorities for specifics they may require.
Firstly the couple needs to go to the County office and apply in person to get a license. Only the couple can apply for the license. You cannot send anybody else to do it for you. There are very few exceptions to this requirement.
You will need a license for the state where you are getting married. For most folks this is your home state, but if it is a destination wedding make sure you know all the detailed requirements for the location. Remember some locations have a waiting period, typically 3 days, so you need to plan accordingly. If you are traveling internationally you should get assistance from someone local to the destination on the local requirements and process. Do not assume it is the same as where you live.
Most locations have specific requirements such as specific documentation: ID’s, certified copies of your divorce decree if applicable, proof of address, maybe a birth certificate. Some states require blood tests, some do not. Check the local county rules before you go to the county office. The county clerk is doing their job and will follow the rules. Go prepared.
Some states require a witness for the license application, so be prepared to ask someone who has known you for a while to go with you. You will most likely need some information about both your parents' full birth names, birthdates, birth states, and dates of passing, if applicable.
If you're under 18, you'll likely need permission from a parent or guardian to get married. The requirement varies state by state, with some requiring a court order.
There is a fee to apply for a marriage license, typically between $35 and $150, depending on your state and county. Make sure you have the needed funds to pay the fees.
If you are planning on changing your name, the best time to do that is then you apply for the license. This will be a lot less work and cost than doing it later. You will still retain your maiden name until you actually get married, this will let the court officially know what your new name will be. There are many options on this topics. You can keep your name exactly the same. You can take your partner's name (or vice versa). The two of you can legally even make an entirely new last name.
Once you've proven your identity, turned in your paperwork, and paid your fee, you'll be granted a marriage license. Some states will hand you the marriage license right then and there, but others will mail it out to you within a few days. (Note that if you do change your name, you’ll need to change it with Social Security as well. You’ll need a copy of the signed marriage certificate for this.)
Make sure you get the license in the right time interval. Most licenses have an expiration date, e.g. 2 months after the issue date. Make sure your wedding date is in the valid date range. Note that some counties will mail the license to you a few days after you do all the paperwork. Make sure there is enough time for it to be delivered before the BIG day!
After the ceremony make sure both of you sign the marriage license, also that the witness(es) sign and the officiant that conducts the ceremony signs it. Do it as soon after the ceremony as possible before the fun and celebration begins. The officiant that conducted the ceremony will take the signed license to the local county clerk and they will issue the marriage certificate that proves you are legally married.
How to get licensed in TEXAS!
The couple needs to go to any County Clerk’s office in Texas. Both parties must appear in person to sign the application. Some counties have an online application form to be filled before the in-person appointment. You don't need to be a Texas resident to apply for a marriage license in Texas.
In Texas there is a 72-hour waiting period so you have to wait for at least three days from the time you obtain your license to be able to have your ceremony. This three-day waiting period can be waived for active-duty military personnel and those with a written waiver from a judge or a waiver from a Twogether in Texas premarital counseling program. Blood tests, medical exams, and witnesses are not required in Texas.
Your ceremony must be performed within 90 days from the issuing date. If you haven’t gotten married before the expiration date you will need to purchase a new license.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some counties are experiencing backlogs for marriage license appointments so it is advisable to contact your local office as soon as possible.
Bring Your Documentation
There are a few items you will need to get a marriage license in Texas. For your in-person appointment you’ll need:
Proof of Identity and Age. To get married in Texas, you have to be at least 18 years old and each party needs to have government-issued picture identification and proof of age. This can be in the form of a United States or foreign passport, driver’s license or ID card issued by Texas or another state, an original or certified birth certificate, or military ID card. Your forms of identification cannot be damaged, torn, or expired. The marriage license will be prepared with your legal name exactly as it appears on your identification.
Proof of Divorce. Both applicants must not have been divorced within the last 30 days. If your divorce was finalized within the last 30 days you will need to present a certified copy of the divorce decree stating that a judge waived the 30-day waiting period.
A Texas marriage license costs between $60 and $85 and this will vary according to the county. $100 is added on top of this for out-of-state residents. Note that some counties only accept cash as a form of payment while others only take credit cards to which a processing fee may be applied.
Social Security Number. Know your social security number for the forms. Some counties require the physical social security card, too.
Couples are required to bring their marriage license with them on the day of their wedding to be signed by the person conducting the ceremony. Remember to get certified copies at the time of issue. You never know when you need a backup!
Now you can get legally married!