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.



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