You’ve picked out your dress, meticulously organized the seating chart, and planned a celebration to remember on all accounts. As you near the finish line and final details begin to pile up, it can be easy to overlook one crucial step: The wedding paperwork that declares you legally married. “It’s best to be prepared with the correct documents on your wedding day,” says wedding coordinator and officiant Ashley Williams.
Meet the Expert
The founder of Ashley Nicole Events, Ashley Williams offers wedding coordination and officiant services in Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
The good news: Signing on the dotted line only takes a few minutes, so you’ll be back to the revelry in no time—provided you properly prepare for the moment. Here are six wedding paperwork mistakes to avoid so the entire experience can be smooth sailing.
1. Not Doing Your Research Ahead of Time
Marriage license laws vary widely county-by-county and state-by-state. Not only does each region require different paperwork, processes, and payments to obtain a marriage license, but they may also have different waiting periods before the license can be used, and unique requirements about who can perform the ceremony. (In Virginia, for example, your officiant needs to be legally registered with the state.) You will need to obtain a marriage license for the state—and, in some cases, the specific county—where you’ll marry, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into, especially if you’re planning a destination wedding away from where you live. If your wedding locale requires a waiting period to use your marriage license, that means you can’t obtain your license and wed on the same day, so you’ll need to set your appointment in advance and arrive early.
Depending on where you marry, the court may require your officiant’s information—name, address, filing number, etc.—so be sure to have that handy ahead of your appointment.
2. Misplacing Your Documents
Once you obtain your marriage license paperwork from the county clerk’s office, put it in a safe place and do not move it until you bring it to the ceremony. “Be sure to tell your partner where the document is located, and give your license to your planner or officiant before the ceremony,” says Williams. “When things start moving fast, your documents will already be with the right people.”
Also important: Do not fuss with the papers. “When you receive your marriage license from the court, there will be multiple pages provided, usually within a packet,” says Williams. “Give your officiant the packet as you received it from the courthouse, as your officiant will have to complete multiple documents.”
3. Failing to Preselect Your Witnesses
Certain states, such as North Carolina, require witness signatures to legally complete a marriage license. If you’re marrying in a state that requires witnesses, Williams advises to double-check court stipulations for your witnesses (age, residency, etc.) and to ask your witnesses to participate in advance of the task. (Don’t worry—many consider this an honor and will happily participate!) Be sure they know when the signing will occur, and where it will occur. “If you are signing your license after the ceremony, make sure your witness doesn’t leave with the other guests and head to cocktail hour,” advises Williams.
4. Signing Incorrectly
If you do not sign your marriage license properly, it will not be recognized by the court—so follow instructions carefully! “In Maryland, your officiant is required to sign your documents,” Williams offers as an example. “The couple does not sign the paperwork that gets returned to the court.”
Different states have different processes for formally changing or hyphenating your last name with a marriage license. If you’re unclear on what’s required, or on if you should be signing with your original last name or your new one, be sure to review the paperwork and clarify the process with the clerk issuing your license before your appointment ends.
Also: Be mindful of color! “Black ink pen is always the safest option,” says Williams. Have multiple options on hand in case one doesn’t work.
5. Not Returning the Completed License
In order for the county or state that issued your marriage license to legally recognize your union, they’ll need to have your completed marriage license on hand so they can file it away in their records. So just signing isn’t enough—you also need to physically return the document. This happens by mail or in person depending on the county, and it can also be the responsibility of the officiant or the couple. If you aren’t having a self-uniting ceremony, be sure to clarify with your officiant on who will take on the task.
6. Failing to Obtaining Copies
Once your marriage license is completed and returned, the clerk’s office will issue your formal marriage certificate. (Remember: your marriage license is the document that gives you permission to legally wed, while your certificate is the document that declares you legally married.) Your official marriage certificate will likely stay on file with the clerk’s office, but they will offer you certified copies of the certificate. You’ll need these certified copies to officially change your name on your Social Security card, your driver’s license, and your passport, so be sure to retrieve these copies while the whole experience is still top of mind. “Don’t wait for the last minute to request your paperwork,” says Williams. “Some courts may take 14 days or longer.”