We Lost Our Marriage License! What Should We Do?

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While the dress, the cake, and the band are all important parts of a wedding, there's one detail that's more important than the rest: your marriage license. After all, this little document is what makes your marriage legal—so you'd better keep a close eye on it. But what happens if, in the rush of your wedding day, your marriage license goes missing? Our experts have a few tips on how to handle this snafu.

If your marriage license goes missing before it's been signed (and it's not the day of your wedding, of course), head back to the clerk's office where you filed for it to request a duplicate license. You may need to file an affidavit, and be prepared to pay a fee. The process and fee will vary from state to state, as will the requirements about who can pick up the copy. Some states require that both of you return to get a duplicate license, while others will allow just one of you (or even an immediate family member) to purchase the duplicate, as your identities were already confirmed when your original license was applied for.

The same process applies if you lose your marriage license after it has been signed, but before it has been returned and registered with the county recorder. Your duplicate license will need to be signed by the two of you, your officiant, and witnesses. Keep an eye on the calendar, though: Depending on the state, your duplicate license may need to be applied for and returned within a calendar year of your first marriage license.

If you were married, returned your license to the county recorder, and received both your original marriage certificate and any certified copies you purchased, and then somewhere along the way (say, while you were moving from one home to another or in a fire) your marriage license went missing or was destroyed, you can also request a replacement marriage certificate. The National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the CDC, has made it a little easier: They've compiled each state's guidelines for requesting a replacement certificate, which you can review here. While the guidelines and fees vary from state to state, you will need to know the following information when determining who to contact and submitting your request:

  • Full name of the bride and groom
  • Month, day, and year of the marriage
  • Place of marriage (city or town, county, and state)
  • Purpose for which copy of marriage certificate is needed
  • Relationship to persons whose marriage certificate is being requested

Our best advice? Make sure your marriage license is kept in a safe place, before, during, and after your wedding. Ensure that someone responsible brings the license to your ceremony, that you, your officiant, and your required number of witnesses sign the license, and that it is properly returned to your county recorder. Once you get your license back, keep it in a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box so it is safe from harm and damage.

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