Getting married is more than just a big deal for your mom. Officially getting hitched means a great deal in the eyes of the law. In fact, your marriage certificate is a pretty important legal document – one could argue even more important for those who decide to change their legal name upon marriage. Either way, it’s important regardless.
While your wedding and ceremony might be what really stands out in your memory, in order for your marriage to be considered legal in the eyes of the law you had to obtain a marriage license at your county clerk’s office. Both parties are required to be present with a romantic pile of personal identity documents like your passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, a divorce decree or certificate if you were previously married, or a death certificate if you are widowed.
Marriage licenses need to be signed by whoever legally performed your ceremony as well as witnesses. The signings can happen before or after the ceremony and the officiant customarily mails it off for processing as a courtesy. Once the license is received and processed, you are sent a marriage certificate, which is proof your marriage is on record.
If for some reason the license isn’t filed with the clerk in a timely fashion it’s possible the license can expire, forcing you to file for a new one. Instead of going down that unlikely rabbit hole, let’s assume everything went to plan, you received your official certificate back, put it somewhere, and now have no idea where it is.
Why Are Marriage Certificates So Important?
A marriage certificate proves your union in the eyes of the law. The ceremony and party are a blast, but in reality you’re married the moment the license is signed and mailed or dropped off with the county clerk. Not very romantic, but the benefits a married couple receives more than make up for it.
You’ll need this important document to verify eligibility for insurance, credit cards, bank accounts, immigration proceedings, as well as Social Security if you decide to change your name. Down the line any inheritance may also require this document. Plus, and this isn’t meant to cast shade on newlyweds, if the marriage ends in divorce it’s helpful for each ex-spouse to have a copy of their marriage certificate filed away with their important papers.
How Do I Obtain A Copy Of A Marriage Certificate?
Determine the state where the marriage license or certificate was issued.
This might be easy if you got married locally and never left town. But if you traveled to another county or state to get married you’ll need to obtain the certificate from that specific clerk’s office. If you live in Chicago but got married in Florida, you’ll need to get it from the county clerk’s office in Florida.
Start by logging into the Vital Records portal on the CDC website. The handy government website provides specific directions, cost, addresses, and websites where you can go to request your marriage certificate.
Follow the state’s directions
Each state has different protocols for obtaining marriage certificates. For example in California, you’ll have to go directly into the State of California’s Vital Records website and follow their rather detailed instructions. California will not provide copies of confidential marriages. Smaller states with smaller populations often have simpler processes. For example in Kansas you’ll need to write to the District Judge in the county where the license was issued.
Contact the county clerk’s office
While each state handles marriage license and certificate requests uniquely, most will be handled out of the state’s county clerk’s office.
Public marriage records can be obtained by others
Should you need to request a copy of a marriage certificate for legal reasons such as managing an estate, or citizenship matters, public marriage records can be obtained by other parties. A child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, domestic partner, or attorney may request a marriage record.
You Can Get Extra Copies Of Your Marriage Certificate To Be Safe
You can pay a fee to receive extra official copies when you submit the signed license. This way if something comes up out of nowhere that requires a copy of your marriage certificate, you won’t have to worry about ordering extra copies and waiting who knows how long for them to arrive.
In the meantime, if you’re currently married perhaps you should take a moment and locate your marriage certificate. Unless you have it hung on a wall along with your wedding photos, you probably have some searching to do.