Here's what you need to know about getting your hands on this necessary document.

By Nancy Mattia
September 27, 2019

If you want to get married in the United States, you need a marriage license. (Don't confuse it with a marriage certificate, which you sign immediately after saying "I do" and which your officiant sends to the state government for processing.) You must be at least 18 years old in most states to marry (a few set 19 or 21 as the legal age). To find out where to apply for a license and get any pertinent information, visit the official website of the city or town you're marrying in. Here are general some things to know.

Related: This Is Why Your Marriage License Is So Important

Which government office issues marriage licenses?

It depends on the state where you're getting married. If you're exchanging vows in Iowa, for example, you can get a license at any county recorder's office in the state. Iowa is one of the few states that requires a couple to also bring a witness when they apply. In many states, including Illinois and Oregon, you go to the county clerk's office to get a license.

Online makes it easier but…

In California, you can apply for a marriage license online but you can't send someone—your personal assistant?—to pick it up. Both partners must appear to complete the online application at the county clerk's office. Same goes for Pennsylvania.

Then there are special circumstances.

If you or your partner lives in New Jersey or Montana, you can apply for a marriage license in the municipality where either of you lives even if you're marrying in another part of the state; if neither of you is a state resident, you must apply at the municipality where the marriage ceremony will take place.

When does the license expire?

It varies widely. Some states, like Delaware, put a 30-day expiration date on the marriage license. By contrast, Arizona gives couples a generous 12 months before the license is void. The District of Columbia goes one better: Once issued, a marriage license never expires there.

Waiting period

Some states, like Alaska and Kansas, impose a three-day waiting period between when the license is issued and when you can wed. In many states, such as Hawaii and Nevada, there's no wait time at all—you can get a license and a new spouse in the same afternoon.

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