Application for a Marriage LicenseWhen you are planning your wedding, your focus is likely on the ceremony and the reception. It's easy to get excited about what you will say to each other as you begin your lives together or what song will accompany your first dance as a married couple. There are other practical factors to take into consideration, though.

Two important tasks to add to your to-do list are obtaining the marriage license and the marriage certificate. While the two documents are both necessary to ensure your union is legal, there are many distinctions between a marriage certificate vs. marriage license that are important to note.

Plan for the Marriage License 

A marriage license is a document that gives you permission to marry. Essentially, the license is the application to confirm your eligibility to legally marry within your state and county. Timing is important, regardless of whether you are filing a marriage certificate vs. license, and there are several decisions that you need to make before you have the information you need to apply.

Set the location and date of the wedding. Not only will you likely need to file in the county where you will be married, but you will also need to do it within the legal time frame. If you file too early, you'll just have to do it again before your wedding. If you wait too long, your ceremony may have to be postponed to be legal. 

Obtain a Marriage License

As with any legal documents, there are rules that govern how to obtain a marriage license vs. a marriage certificate. Make sure you know your state and county requirements for a marriage license application before you show up to your appointment. Not every state requires the items on the following list, but there are many things both of you may need to bring with you:

  • State-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or a passport
  • Birth certificates
  • Parents' information, such as names, birthplace, date of birth and date of death (if applicable)
  • Certificate of divorce or death certificate of former spouse if either of you were previously married
  • Witness or parent (if either of you is under 18)
  • Licensing fee

Take the required documents and information with you so that you can file the application successfully. The marriage license will be the document filed after the wedding to make your marriage official.

Sign the License

After the ceremony is over and your officiant has declared you are married, it is time to sign the marriage license. In most states, you will need five signatures. You and your partner must sign it, and so must the officiant. Additionally, you usually need two witnesses. The witnesses are typically parents or the main attendants, but it can be anyone who is present during the service. Plan to complete this important step before the reception so that you don't forget to do it.

File the License

Finally, the license must be returned to the issuing office in accordance with that area's rules and requirements. As long as this is done within the required time frame, a customary marriage certificate will be issued. This is the document that proves you are legally married. Some states will mail you certified copies of the marriage certificate, but in other places, you must pick them up in person once they're ready. 

In addition to this formal document, some couples prefer to obtain a commemorative marriage certificate, which tends to have an artistic style and is more suitable for framing or displaying. 

In the busyness of planning your wedding, it is easy to forget the difference between a marriage license vs. a certificate. Both documents are important, though, so it is essential that you make them an integral part of your agenda. Following the rules for filing them correctly ensures that your beautiful ceremony serves to make your union official.


  1. Ryan R. Shaw's Avatar Ryan R. Shaw

    Please follow your County's requirements. The most recent wedding I officiated, witnesses were not required AND the newlyweds had to file the marriage license at their county clerk's office NOT me as the officiant. Therefore, the blanket statement above that the officiant 'must' file the completed license is incorrect.

    1. ULC Admin's Avatar ULC Admin

      Thanks for clarifying! We've updated the article to make that part more accurate.

  1. Dave crandall's Avatar Dave crandall

    You can only sign the official license in area shown on license. You may want to check if your credentials are required. Your ministry certificate is all you need. ULC has us on database Love

  1. Reverend Gary's Avatar Reverend Gary

    The Bible tells us that,

    “a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

  1. John Peter Dugan's Avatar John Peter Dugan

    one requires waiting in long lines at the DMV, the other requires a leash................

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