Difference between a marriage license and marriage certificate

The Difference Between a Marriage License and Marriage Certificate

Getting married is exciting but it can also be a little bit stressful. There is so much to get done and it often feels like there isn’t enough time. Chances are that your wedding registry or wedding planning book has a checklist for you to follow so you know just how to prioritize everything leading up to your big day. You may have seen both a marriage license and a marriage certificate mentioned in your planning and it is common to be unsure of the differences between the two. Luckily, we can help you understand the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate so you know exactly what they do and when you’ll need one of these two important documents!


Marriage License


A marriage license is a government document that you’ll need to get approved before you get married. You can think of it as a marriage application; once it is approved, you and your significant other are approved to be married. You can apply for a marriage license via your county clerk by either walking into the office or setting up an appointment online. They can cost between $35 – $115 depending on your state’s application fees. It is fairly common to apply for and pick up your marriage license all in the same day, though some states may require a short waiting period and will mail you the license. Remember, a marriage license means you are allowed to get married, not that you are married. During your wedding ceremony, you, your soon-to-be- spouse, officiant, and 1-2 witnesses will sign the license. From here either your officiant will mail it into the county clerk’s office or you can bring it to the office yourself. It then becomes a public record to ensure that one person is not married multiple times. Most states require you to have a marriage license no less than 72 hours prior to your wedding date. It is also important to know that marriage licenses do have an expiration date, normally between 30-60 days, so make sure that you know your state’s timelines before you apply.

Example of a marriage license

Marriage License is like an application to get married, once it has been approved you and your spouse can legally get married.


Marriage Certificate

Now that you’ve gotten your marriage license it is time to get the marriage certificate. A marriage certificate is a government and public record that proves a couple is legally married. In most states once you mail in your completed marriage license, in a few weeks time you will be issued a marriage certificate. The marriage certificate will state who married whom, when, where, and the officiant that performed the marriage. In most cases you will need to apply for a copy of your marriage certificate otherwise it will not be automatically mailed to you. It will take a few weeks between when you submit your filled out marriage license until you can get a copy of your marriage certificate. You can either request a copy from your local county clerk or submit a secure online order through VitalChek. You’ll need a certified copy of your marriage certificate to legally change your last name, to add someone to your work benefits policy, and you may be required to show a marriage certificate if you are audited by the IRS. It is always good to have your marriage certificate in a safe place so you can easily access it whenever you need it.


Now that you know the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate, you can move forward with the wedding planning as scheduled. Always make sure to keep your marriage license and your marriage certificate in a safe place like a small, fireproof safe, or in a security deposit box. If you need to replace a marriage certificate, visit VitalChek and place a secure and fast order for a certified copy of your marriage certificate.



  1. Question: I am an American citizen and resident of New York City, and I recently got married to a French citizen, officially in France in the local Marie, and have obtained a livre de famille. She already has obtained her US green card, and we live together and work in New York City. How can we obtain a marriage license in New York State? What is the process and what documents do we need to show and to whom?

    1. Hello Mitch. Congratulations on your marriage. If you are looking to get get an official copy of your marriage certificate, you will need to apply to the mairie where your ceremony took place. If, on the other hand, you are looking to have an official ceremony in the U.S. and need to acquire a marriage license, you will need to contact the clerk’s office in the county where the ceremony will take place.


  3. What is the difference between a Marriage Certificate and a Certified Abstract of Marriage?

    1. Hello Krista. Thanks for reaching out with your question. A Certified Abstract is an abbreviated transcription of a document or record that includes the date of the record, every name appearing therein, the relationship (if stated) of each person named and their description (ie., witness, executor, bondsman, son, widow, etc.), and if they signed with their signature or mark.

  4. If we want our marriage to become official ( marriage certificate) on a very specific date, Is that allowed to be requested? we live in California. The day we want to become legally married happens on a week day, but we plan to have the celebration on the weekend that follows.

    1. Hello Evelyn. Thanks for reaching out with your question. You may have to participate in a brief legal ceremony on the exact date and then have your formal ceremony on the weekend as planned. We suggest you contact the county clerk in the area where you are getting married to determine if your request is possible.

  5. I’m a widow. Do I need marriage and death certificates?
    My new to be husband is French. For marriage in Vegas, what documents will be required for him ?
    Then where, how, and when will the marriage become official?)

    1. Hello. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. >Click here for more information about the requirements for obtaining a marriage license in Las Vegas (Clark County, NV).

  6. What is the diffrence betwwen Marrage Certificat and marrage rigister?

    1. Hello Abaynesh. A marriage license is a piece of paper that authorizes you to get married and a marriage certificate is a document that proves you are married

  7. My daughter recently obtained a copy of her marriage license and certificate. It shows some errors like husband signed name wrong, there is no officiant on the certificate, also ceremony was civil but marked religious. Is it possible any of these errors can affect the legality of this marriage? They were married in Colorado 2002.

    1. Hello Joy. While it is unlikely that these errors in record keeping would jeopardize the legality of the marriage, it would be best to contact the county authorities in Colorado for a definitive answer. To correct the errors on the certificate, your daughter will need to contact the issuing vital records agency.

    2. My husband and I got married in the county clerks office three days after we were approved by our application to get married the license . He is a Greek citizen I’m a US citizen . We three months later moved to Freece and are trying to file our marriage so it’s legal here. I had to get an Apositile from US Department of State . I followed everything I was suppose to do and now their saying it was declined because it’s not the original marriage certificate. This is what I was given after our ceremony at the clerks office . I had two witnesses there as well . What is wrong???

      1. Hello Lisa. We’re sorry to hear about the issues you have encountered. You will need to speak to the party that denied the application to find out what the issue is with the certificate. You can also order a certified copy of the marriage certificate online through a company such as VitalChek.

  8. Hello, We have two License and Certificate of
    Marriage records. One is from Orange County
    and the other is from San Diego County; both
    in California. Both records have a different date
    of marriage. We did renew our vows in
    San Diego so I wonder if that’s the reason for
    the new marriage date? If so, in the event of
    any legal matter, will the new marriage date
    be when we officially got married?

    Thank you,

    1. Hello Eric. Thanks for reaching out with your question. You may want to reach out to one or both of the issuing agencies for their input as to which set of documents would be used for legal matters.


    1. Hello Angela. The marriage certificate should be ample proof that the marriage took place. (A marriage license only indicates that it may take place.)

  10. How do I know if my marriage certificate is certified by the state of California?

    1. Hello. You may want to contact the California Department of Public Health for more information regarding your marriage certificate. Click here to visit their website for more information.

  11. I live in Florida and I went in for the marriage license. Didn’t do the ceremony at the clerks office and the deadline passed for the return and recording of the documents. Am I legally married?

    1. Hello Camilla. We suggest you contact the clerk’s office that issued the license for more information regarding their filing policies.

  12. Hello. I am a residence of Tennessee but the man that I want to marry resides in Florida. We want to be married the same day. Is that possibe? And for now I want to still reside in Tennessee until I find a jib in Florida is that legal?

    1. Hello Patricia. Thanks for reaching out with your question. Please click heree to visit the Broward County Clerk’s office website for more information about applying for a marriage license in Florida. (A marriage license obtained in a Florida County can be used anywhere in the state, not just the county where it was obtained.)In order to get married the same day as applying for the license, Florida residents are required to have completed a premarital course. As a non-resident, you may not be required to complete the course but please verify that with a clerk’s office. With regard to where you reside after your marriage, there should not be any legal hindrance to you remaining in Tennessee.

  13. I was married in Las Vegas and applied for a license certificate in las Vegas. Should I have it filed in the county I
    am residing in? If so how long do I have? Also will my marriage license Certificate expire from Las Vegas?

    1. Good morning, Michelle. A marriage license is the document you obtain prior to your marriage that gives you the legal right to get married. You usually obtain a marriage license from the clerk’s office in the area where the ceremony will take place. You must get married within a certain number of days after obtaining the license. A marriage certificate is the document that you obtain after the marriage occurs that verifies that you are legally married. Your marriage certificate will be filed with the state where the ceremony took place. It has no expiration date. You can apply for a certified copy of your marriage certificate through the vital records agency in the area where the marriage took place or through an online ordering service such as VitalChek.

  14. can i get married in a church with a marriage license

    1. Hello Antonio. In most, if not all states, you would be required to have a marriage license to get married, whether in a church or not.

  15. Hi i got married in maryland back in 2011 i do have a certificate of marriage filled out by the church REV but i never received a printed out form after we were married the church filled it out and gave it back to me. So am i even legally married?

    1. Hello Jess. If you applied for a marriage license prior to getting married and you, your spouse, your witnesses and the Officiant at the church signed the document after the ceremony, you are legally married. If you wish to obtain additional copies of your marriage certificate, you can purchase them through the Maryland Department of Health or online through VitalChek.

Leave A Comment