How to Get a Marriage License in California

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Photo by Lacie Hansen Photography

From majestic mountains to silky sand beaches, the Golden State is home to countless dreamy backdrops for a remarkable wedding. But to say “I do” under the Californian sun, you’ll need to make things official with a marriage license.

Here’s a detailed guide on how to get married in California.

Types of Marriage Licenses

In the state of California, you can apply for a confidential marriage license or a public marriage license. Each has different requirements and fees.

A confidential marriage license will stay out of the public record and only the two parties involved may request certified copies of it. Couples opting for this license must be living together at the time of applying and must attest to such on the form.

Where and When to Go

You don’t have to be a resident to obtain a marriage license in California, therefore anyone can wed in the state. Your license is valid for 90 days from the date it is issued and it can only be used for wedding ceremonies in California. If you don’t have a ceremony within 90 days, you’ll need to apply and pay for a new one—there are no refunds.

Depending on the county you visit, you may be able to apply for your marriage license online or in person. San Diego County marriage license applications must all be done in person, for instance, while Los Angeles County has an online form. With online applications, both parties are still required to appear physically at the Los Angeles County Clerk/Recorder with the required documentation and to make payment within 15 days of submitting their documents online.

Fees, appointment systems, and hours of operation vary per county so it is best to call your local office to verify best practices.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many county clerks and recorders are experiencing processing delays for online marriage license applications. Keep this in mind when scheduling your appointment.

There is no waiting period in California. You can tie the knot the moment you get the legal green light. Plus, witnesses are not required to obtain a marriage license. There is no legal requirement to change one’s name upon marriage either. Anyone wishing to do so, however, must do this when the license is signed or forever hold their peace (or get a court order to speed up the process).

Bring Your Documentation

There are a few items you will need to get a marriage license in California. For your in-person appointment don’t forget to bring:

  • Proof of Identity and Age. You must be at least 18 years old to get married in California. Each person will need valid photo identification containing a photo, date of birth, full legal name, and dates of issue and expiration. This may be a passport (US-issued or foreign), naturalization certificate, resident alien card, driver’s license, or military ID. Some counties also require a birth certificate.
  • Money. Depending on your county and the type of license requested, you can expect to pay between $45 and $112 for a California marriage license. The fee is collected either at the time of scheduling or at the in-person appointment. Check for payment requirements at your relevant county and note that card payments may incur a small transaction fee.
  • Proof of Divorce. This goes without saying, but you must not be married to anyone else when you apply. You should know the date and the reason that your last marriage ended. If you were previously married and the dissolution was final within the past 90 days, a copy of your final judgment is required.

Get Married!

Put on your wedding attire and make your way to your venue! You’ll both have to be there in person as marriage by proxy is not permitted in California. Military personnel is the only exemption to this.

Couples with a public marriage license must have at least one witness at their ceremony and two witnesses at maximum. For confidential marriage license holders, no witnesses are required to attend or to sign the license.

There is no age requirement for witnesses in California, but the individual must be aware they are witnessing a marriage ceremony and they must be able to sign their own name on the official marriage license without assistance.

California Family Code, Section 400 states that authorized persons to solemnize marriage ceremonies include a priest, minister or rabbi of any religious denomination, a commissioner of civil marriages, any United States acting or retired judge or magistrate, and any legislator or constitutional officer representing a Californian district. Some counties also participate in the Deputy for a Day program whereby a relative or loved one can be sworn in to perform your ceremony. Applications for this program are encouraged at least three weeks before any ceremony.

Within 10 days, the authorized person who performs the wedding ceremony will return the original marriage license to the county clerk/recorder. Once they receive and record your license, it becomes a marriage certificate. You won’t automatically receive a copy after your ceremony though. To get a certified copy, you’ll have to request and pay for one from the county where the marriage took place.

Make it Special

You’ve got your partner and the rings. With your license in hand, you can finally do this marriage thing. This might not be your wedding day, but you can still trickle some cheer onto it. Eat, play or stay somewhere that’s special for both of you or procure a keepsake right from the county clerk’s office. Some sell bumper stickers, framed digital photos, and decorative mementos. Celebrate the moment as you and your partner know best. Forever awaits!

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