When the countdown to your wedding is officially on, you're probably thinking about a million different things. Although your to-do list is long, don't forget to go to the courthouse (or, in some states, the DMV) to fill out legal paperwork ahead of the wedding. After all, obtaining your marriage license is actually one of the most important things you'll do before you tie the knot. "The marriage license is so much more than a piece of paper because without it, your officiant isn't allowed to marry you," says Sean Koski, co-founder of Florida-based Ticket2Events company. "Even if you have your marriage license executed but then misplace it—or worse, lose it before your wedding—there is nothing you can do but beg for mercy from the officiant or postpone the ceremony and only have the reception."
Talk about a couple's worst nightmare! Before you start stressing, take a deep breath and remember that every single married couple in the United States has managed to get this done in a timely manner before their wedding. You and your fiancé will, too.
What is a marriage license and why is it so important?
"A marriage license is a legal document signifying the marriage as a legal union. It needs to be signed by the bride, groom, officiant, and sometimes witnesses," says Ashley Bourque, a wedding planner at Chancey Charm Weddings. "Couples need to get one to be recognized by the state as legally married, which could be important for banking, tax or insurance purposes. I've created a FAQ sheet that I send to my brides with the clerk's address and number, as well as a list of documents they need to bring, and the timeline in which they should be doing all of this." Without a marriage license, you cannot legally get married, and you union won't be sanctioned by the government. Furthermore, you can't get a marriage certificate without a valid, signed license.
When should you get your marriage license?
This all depends on whether or not you're getting married in your home state, out of state, or out of the country. Koski recommends checking travel.state.gov to read up on the marriage license requirements for the state where you'll be getting married since each state has different rules about how long the marriage license is valid—30 to 90 days is typical—and some states have waiting periods between when you obtain the license and when the ceremony can happen. "Be sure to do your research a few months in advance," says Lindsey Nickel of Lovely Day Events. "If it's possible to make a reservation to get your marriage license, that will save time waiting in line. Seasoned officiants sometimes want the couple to sign the marriage license at the ceremony rehearsal, which is a great idea because that means there's one less thing you have to remember to do on your wedding day." After the wedding, your officiant will mail it in for you so that your state can issue a marriage certificate.
What about destination weddings?
"If you are planning a destination wedding abroad, there are many advantages to taking care of your marriage license and having a small civil ceremony where you currently live before your ceremony abroad," says Tracy Brisson, a wedding officiant and planner. "You'll definitely know that all your paperwork is legal and proper and you do not have to worry about taking so many official documents with you to a foreign country. Plus, if you marry in a country where documents are not prepared in English, you will acquire extra expenses to have them translated whenever you need to use them for legal purposes." And those are just two of the potential hiccups.