So, you’re getting married in California, and not sure how to make it official? The marriage license process in California is pretty simple, you just need to know where to start. We will outline the process of obtaining a marriage license in California from start to finish. Please note, that if you’re not getting married in California, these rules will not apply to you.
The first step in the marriage license process in California is to choose your married name if you are planning to change it. Whether you are taking your husband’s last name, he’s taking your last name, or if you are combining the two, you have to decide and select it before you apply for your license.
Be certain of your new name choice. You cannot change the name on your wedding license or certificate once the license is issued.
The second step in the marriage license process is to apply for your license. We suggest filling out the form online, at your county clerk’s website. Online is the quickest and easiest way to apply. Some counties have regulations on their website, so it’s best to check your county for further details. For example, in Santa Clara, California, at least one of you must be a resident of the county. And in Los Angeles County, you have to return your marriage license to their Norwalk office to be processed. Don’t forget to check all your county requirements before continuing.
In general, though, to start the marriage license process in California, you both need to be 18 years of age or older. You both must have a valid government-issued ID, and both of you have to be there to apply. Lastly, appointments are usually required and/or highly recommended.
The next step in the marriage license process, we always recommend is to give the marriage license to your officiant. Once you have your license in hand, pass it off to whoever is performing your marriage ceremony. Handing it off gives you one less thing to worry about while finishing up your wedding planning. Of course, it’s up to whoever is performing your ceremony if they want to accept it beforehand, but usually, it’s not a problem. Following the ceremony, your officiant and at least one witness will sign the license and then your officiant will file it correctly for you.
If your officiant does not accept your marriage license immediately, don’t forget to bring your license on your wedding day. Your officiant cannot legally marry you if your license is not physically present before they begin your ceremony.
Next as mentioned above, your completed marriage license should be returned by your officiant within 10 business days. Also note, you must return your license to the same location you applied for it. In other words, if you apply for your license at the OC Clerk Recorder’s Office your officiant will need to also return it to the OC office.
Lastly, once the Clerk-Recorder’s Office receives your license and records it, the license becomes an official marriage certificate. Purchase a copy of your marriage certificate for your personal records. You may use it as legal proof of your marriage when necessary.
The most common type of marriage license is a public marriage license. A public license is part of public record. Public record means anyone can request copies, provided they pay the required fees.
Public marriages must have at least one witness present at the ceremony, and only two witnesses may sign the official marriage license after the ceremony. Although there are no age requirements for witnesses, they do need to be old enough to know that they are witnessing a marriage ceremony, and they must be able to sign their own names on the official document without assistance.
Fees vary from county to county but typically range from $61 in Orange County to $100+ in Riverside County.
A confidential marriage license is a confidential record and is registered at the County Clerk’s Office in the county where it was purchased. Only you and your partner may purchase copies of the marriage license and must present valid picture identification, together, with the required fee to the County Clerk in order to do so.
Anyone other than you and your partner requesting copies of a confidential marriage license can only do so with a court order to the County Clerk in the county where the license is registered.
Fees for a California confidential marriage license vary by county but range from $66-$100+. In some counties it is more expensive than a public license, in others it is the same price.
A few extra requirements for a confidential marriage license:
Are blood tests required for a marriage license?
No. Blood tests were eliminated in 1995.
Are non-U.S. citizens allowed to marry in California?
Yes! Citizenship is not a requirement to marry in California.
To be legally married, do we need to have a marriage ceremony or can we just apply for the marriage license?
California law requires an unmarried couple to purchase a California-issued marriage license and have a marriage ceremony performed anywhere in the State of California.
We got married in a foreign country. How do we register our marriage in California?
Foreign marriage certificates cannot be recorded/registered in California. If you need to establish a record of the marriage in California, you may file a petition in Superior Court to establish a “Court Order Delayed Certificate of Marriage”.
FAQs are provided by the City and County of San Francisco Office of County Clerk website.
This is a general guide to the marriage license process in California and is not the same for every state. Also note, that every county in California has its special rules, so be sure to check your county’s website before you begin the process. All in all, the marriage license process in California is pretty simple, once you have all the details, always remember to do your research.
Congratulations and happy planning! 🖤