Whether you've just said "I do" or you're gearing up for the big day and ready to exchange your vows, there is one very important piece of paper that you might have some questions about: Your marriage license.
A marriage license is an official document, obtained by the couple before the wedding, that legally documents your union. Once the license is signed (during or right after the ceremony) and returned to the county clerk—more on that below—the couple will receive a marriage certificate. The license proves that you're legally able to marry, while the certificate proves that you actually did exchange vows and legally tie the knot. If you choose to work with a wedding planner, they will be clued into this multi-step process, as will your officiant, but it's important for both partners to understand what happens with a marriage license.
To ensure all your questions are answered, we speak with Joanna Miller, the founder of the wedding officiant service company Married by Miller, about what exactly happens to your marriage license after the wedding.
Meet the Expert
Joanna Miller is the founder of Married by Miller, a company based in Washington D.C. that offers wedding officiant services to couples.
What should couples do with their marriage license immediately after the wedding?
Your signed marriage license will need to be given to the county clerk at the local marriage bureau following your wedding. But the exact steps of this process are a little nuanced: "What to do with your marriage license depends significantly on the rules for the area where you are married," explains Miller. "In some places, the couple and the officiant will need to sign the license and return it in hard copy to the local marriage bureau. In other places, a photo of the license can be emailed to the Bureau and the original can be kept and framed, or otherwise looked after as a valuable legal document," she says. Miller stresses that no matter what, it's best to take a photo of the document as soon as it's signed.
In addition to photographing the license, Miller says that it's not a bad idea to get a notarized copy, as well, "although you can usually request a copy from the Marriage Bureau ten days or more after the fact," she notes.
Who delivers the marriage license to the county clerk?
So you've gotten married (yay!) and signed the license. Who is responsible for handing the paperwork to the state? "Delivering the marriage license to the county clerk is typically a responsibility for the officiant, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially if you have a friend or family member officiate," says Miller. "It definitely needs to be someone you can trust with the responsibility because if the documents aren’t filed properly, you might not end up being legally married in the eyes of the state!" Because this is such an important piece of paper, you want to ensure you talk to your officiant—before the day of your wedding—about who will turn in the license to the county clerk. "Feel free to confirm the details again after your ceremony," stresses Miller.
Is there a certain window of time for turning in the marriage license after the ceremony?
The short answer is: Yes, absolutely! "Ten days is the usual window," explains Miller, "but it will vary from one area to the next, so be sure to look up that timeline in advance. In some places, you may be able to submit the document late after paying a late fee of $50-100, but don’t assume that will be an available option," she advises. "If you hire a professional officiant, this is information that it is reasonable to expect them to know and be responsible for. But when in doubt, do your own research!"