License to Wed

What it takes to make your union legal

Although marriage-license regulations vary from state to state (and even county to county), there are some rules that are generally the same. Here are a few of the basics:

You and your fiancé must apply for the license together and in person.
Bring along the proper identification and make sure it's valid

Most states accept a driver's license, birth or baptismal certificate, military ID, or passport, but find out exactly what you'll need as requirements do vary. Know that people born outside the United States almost always need to provide more than one piece of identification.

Be careful of restrictions on where your license can be used

For example, licenses issued in New York are valid statewide, but Illinois licenses can be used only in the county in which they were issued. And though there are no residential requirements in California, things get tricky in Georgia, where residents can use licenses statewide, but nonresidents must get their licenses in the county where the ceremony will take place.

Make sure you get your license at the proper time

Some expire after 60 or 90 days. But don't wait until the last minute. Most states require that the license be issued at least 24 hours before the marriage takes place. Dying to tie the knot ASAP? Some states, such as Arkansas, Florida (not counting the required four-hour marriage-prep seminar), Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia, don't require a waiting period.

Get a blood test

The following states/regions still require it:

Indiana (bride only)
Montana (bride only)
Washington, D.C

The test must be administered prior to your application for a license—usually within four weeks.

Know the details of your marital history

If this is not your first marriage, you'll need to know the date and place of your divorce or annulment. You may also have to bring proof that it was granted.

Once you have your marriage license, don't lose it

It has to be signed by the officiant on the wedding day. Also, you may need to send copies of it to change your marital status for insurance (car, health, etc.), Social Security (if you're changing your name), and the IRS, to mention just a few.

What to do now:

Use one of these methods to find your area's license requirements:

• Check out's Local Services pages
• Pull out your local Yellow Pages, and turn to the government listings. You're looking for either "marriage-license bureau" or "county clerk's office."
• Search on your state's Web site (almost all of them have addresses that follow the same format. Minnesota, for example, is; try substituting your state's postal abbreviation for the "mn" in that address).

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