How to Get a Marriage Certificate

Getting married is a decision that can have an enormous impact on your life. It can change the way both of you handle your finances, obligations, rights, and much more. In the United States, great benefits are in line for married couples, you'll just need a marriage certificate to apply for them.

The Federal government has a part in this process, as does local state government, so you'll need to learn what's involved for your particular situation. That's why we created this complete marriage certificate guide. Read on and May you live happily ever after!

What's a marriage certificate?

A marriage certificate is a document issued by state governments in the U.S. to attest that two or more people are married. The document must include the full names of the spouses, the date of the marriage, and where the union was officiated and recorded. 

Each state designs its marriage certificate forms. Depending on the place, you may receive a request to provide some or all of the following information:

  • Age of the spouses at the time of marriage
  • Church where the marriage ceremony took place
  • County in which the wedding took place
  • Dates and places of birth of the bride and groom
  • Name of the officiant
  • Names and places of birth of the parents of the spouses;
  • Names of the marriage witnesses
  • Occupations of the couple
  • Home residence of the parties
  • Previous marital status of the participants—whether they are single, widowed, or divorced at the time of marriage

Difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate

To get a U.S. marriage certificate, it's necessary first to obtain a marriage license. The marriage license is a document that grants future spouses permission to get married by law. In contrast, the marriage certificate is the document that formalizes the union and proves that both spouses have decided to join their lives together voluntarily. 

A marriage license is not enough for two people to be considered married, and the expiration date of this document varies from state to state.

Keep in mind: If the marriage license expires before the marriage ceremony has taken place, the bride and groom must reapply for this document. On the other hand, a marriage license is valid indefinitely and will only be dissolved in the event of an annulment, divorce, or death of one of the parties.

Why Do I Need a Marriage Certificate in the United States?

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There are many benefits to being married in the U.S.

In addition to being a statement to society that you and your significant other agree to join your lives together, having a marriage certificate can allow you to access tax, legal, and even immigration advantages. Here are some of the benefits that married couples can enjoy:

Economic benefits

One of the most important benefits is the possibility of joining your finances with your partner's. By doing so, you’ll have tax and economic benefits that will allow you to save money. Some of the most important benefits within this category are:

  • File a single joint tax return. One tax return per year instead of two separate returns can make this process simpler and more cost-effective.
  • Inherit the spouse's estate without paying taxes. Estate taxes are imposed on the inheritors just for receiving the estate to which they're entitled. In the U.S., inheritances to legal spouses are not subject to estate taxes, so you or your spouse will be able to enjoy your entire estate without having to worry about these taxes.
  • Ability to share and choose from the package of benefits from their respective jobs. Most legal jobs in the U.S. offer benefit packages, such as life, medical, dental, and vision insurance for their employees. These packages can usually be extended to your family/spouses.
  • Should either of them lose money, their joint taxes will be reduced. When a couple isn’t married, and one of them has losses during a tax year, that person will not carry that deficit as a deduction on the other's taxes. With a marriage certificate, the spouse earning money can file their partner's losses as deductions, thus reducing the total amount of taxes they pay as a family.

Immigration benefits

For a couple in which one spouse does not have legal status, and the other spouse does (either as a permanent resident or U.S. Citizen), the process of legalizing the former's immigration status can be much more straightforward with a marriage certificate.

Permanent residents and citizens have the right to bring their spouses to live in the U.S as permanent residents; only they must be legally married to do so. In addition, many countries (including Mexico) recognize dual citizenship for their citizens, making it unnecessary to renounce original citizenship to regularize immigration status in the United States.

Social benefits

In addition to the above benefits, U.S. law provides many protections to legally married couples. People who are married can, for example, make medical decisions for each other if necessary. They can also request days off from work to care for their partner in case of illness and get discounts on health, auto, and home insurance. Federal law includes about 1,100 provisions that apply exclusively to couples with a marriage certificate.

How to Register a Marriage in the United States

Getting married in the U.S. is usually very simple: get yourself a marriage license and then use it to obtain a marriage certificate. The specific requirements for applying for these documents vary slightly depending on the state but are generally very similar. We recommend that you contact your local civil registry office to inquire about their specific requirements.

Keep in mind: Some states have a waiting period for granting a marriage license. This period is intended to prevent impulsive marriages by giving the couple time to think things through. The states that require a waiting period are:

  • Delaware, Illinois, New York, Louisiana, and South Carolina (1 day)
  • Maryland (2 days)
  • Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington (3 days)
  • Minnesota and Ohio (5 days)
  • Wisconsin (6 days)
  • Virgin Islands (8 days)

Requirements to get a marriage license

These may vary depending on the state and county where the wedding will occur, and they might change over time. For this reason, we recommend contacting your local government to find out exactly what you need for your big day.

The most common requirements for obtaining a marriage license are:

  • Birth certificates of the soon-to-be spouses
  • Affidavit of parental advice signed by the parents if either of the spouses-to-be is between 21 and 24 years of age
  • Affidavit of parental permission signed by the parents when one of the spouses-to-be is between 18 and 21 years of age
  • Certificate of unmarried status (especially for widowed or divorced persons)
  • Some states require proof of having attended some pre-marital and family planning courses
  • Proof of payment of the filing fee
  • A 1x1 inch photograph of each spouse-to-be
  • Photo ID of each partner
  • Marriage license application form

How Quickly Can I Get a Marriage Certificate?

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The marriage will be considered valid when both engaged partners have said "yes" and signed their marriage certificate; however, it may take approximately one month for the physical copy of their marriage certificate to arrive in the mail.

After the ceremony, the officiant is responsible for registering the marriage at the local government, processing the documents, and sending a certified copy of the marriage certificate.

How Much Does a Marriage Certificate Cost in the United States?

You should expect to pay between $5 and $120 to obtain your marriage certificate, depending on the state you're in. The lowest cost we found for obtaining a marriage license in the U.S. was $5 in Oklahoma (provided the couple attends pre-marital counseling sessions). The highest was $120 for non-residents in Delaware and weddings in certain Wisconsin counties.

These costs typically include the required fee for your local government to issue the first copy of your marriage certificate, which may be a separate document from the license or an attachment to it. Either way, we recommend that you contact your local registrar's office, where they'll be able to inform you of the specific cost of the entire process.

Keep in mind: Once the officiant completes the paperwork to register their marriage with the government, the couple will receive a copy of their marriage certificate without explicitly requesting it. We recommend that you keep this original document in a safe place.

Do You Need a Copy of Your Marriage Certificate?

You'll need to contact the civil registry office corresponding to your marriage. You can find the contact details of the office that corresponds to you by clicking here.

Requirements may vary depending on the state in which you were married. However, all requests for a certified copy of your marriage certificate must include:

  • Names of both spouses
  • Date of marriage
  • Place where the wedding took place (city, county, and state)
  • Reason for requesting a copy of your certificate
  • Relationship to the persons for whom you are requesting a copy of the certificate (if requested by a third party)
  • Complete telephone number

What if I’m divorced?

Widowed and divorced persons must present a document that certifies their single status before they can remarry. The typical documents for this purpose are the death certificate or a divorce certificate of the previous partner.

Can I get married without U.S. citizenship?

Since each state’s government controls its marriage laws, the rules regarding the immigration status of the parties to a wedding vary from place to place.

In general, anyone lawfully present on U.S. soil (holding a visa or permanent resident card) may get married in the country. People without a legal status may only marry in certain states, where specific laws are in place that allow them to do so.

Ready for your next big step?

We hope this article helps you in your quest for a marriage license in the U.S. The process is not very complicated, and there are many benefits. If you're about to become married, the SABEResPODER team wishes you a long and happy union! As always, if you have any questions about this topic, feel free to contact us, and we'll do our best to help you.