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Love (and marriage) is in the… courthouse

February 14, 2023

By Alyssa Nekritz

Valentine’s day seemed the perfect time to examine marriage in the courts. Marriage scenes in the movies leave out the sometimes complex and tedious court processes and documents citizens need to make a marriage official. NCSC will provide some general tips to simplify that process.

The pandemic’s closure of the court buildings, except emergencies, imposed several obstacles to getting married, especially for couples who want to utilize the courthouse and the clerk or judge to officiate. However, many county courts reopened for ceremonies or allowed remote access throughout the pandemic. In 2020, Illinois, Texas, California, and New York, among other states, allowed citizens to obtain marriage licenses and have ceremonies online. Since then, more states have adopted those policies. Couples were incredibly flexible with going online, often hosting Zoom weddings, car ceremonies, or even getting officiated over FaceTime. New York has since rescinded the video conference officiation executive order, but still enables licenses to be issued online. This online process also eases scheduling problems for military personnel and has been a popular method for those who move frequently.

The marriage process starts with obtaining a license, generally from a county clerk’s office. During the pandemic, many courthouses required appointments before entering the office. Some counties still require appointments, but others removed that necessity. It is best to contact your local court’s website for exact requirements.

Generally, both parties must:

  • Be present for the application;
  • Bring a photo ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.);
  • Bring their birth certificate;
  • Know their SSN;
  • Know basic information (addresses, marriage history, etc.); and
  • Be able to pay for the license (cash or credit card).

Florida and Georgia offer discounts on marriage licenses if parties participate in pre-marital education courses. Delaware, Michigan, and Indiana charge more for non-state residents.

Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and South Carolina (the latter two within county marriage departments throughout the state) strictly use probate judges to issue licenses.

After completing the application for the marriage license, couples may need to wait to conduct the marriage ceremony. For example, Maryland requires parties to wait 48 hours before the ceremony. In Maine, Kentucky, Arizona, and many other states, there is no waiting period. If a marriage does not occur within a state’s required timeframe, the parties must apply for the license again. The District of Columbia, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, and South Carolina provide marriage licenses without an expiration date.

For courthouse weddings, most counties cycle through available judges. Many marriage ceremonies in the court require appointments. Some offer Spanish language ceremonies. They might cost extra if the ceremony is past regular business hours.

For ceremonies outside the courthouse, state requirements vary. Since 2014, D.C. couples have been able to officiate their own wedding. These “self-uniting marriages,” also legal in Colorado and Pennsylvania, do not require a third-party officiant, judge, or religious leader to be present. This cheaper and non-religious option has become more popular in recent years.

This summarized chart on waiting periods, license expirations, and with whom to request a license can also be helpful for couples looking to marry.

How is your court reducing or eliminating obstacles for marriage licenses and ceremonies? Share your experiences with us. For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.