The October wedding blitz might be behind us, but weddings are still being canceled and rescheduled as the year tapers off (and, unfortunately, we’re looking at more of the same in 2021…).
In the bustle to replan, reschedule, and rehire, it’s crucial not to overlook the one thing that actually makes any of this legal: the marriage license. If your wedding plans changed due to Covid-19, read on for what you absolutely need to do before saying “I do.”
The recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only and are not intended as legal counsel.
First thing’s first: Did your marriage license expire? Aren’t sure? If you’ve postponed and are in a replanning phase, check this pronto. In many states, you have 60 days from when you apply for the license to the date you say your vows before the license expires. So, if you’ve bumped your date from, say, July to November, you might need to reapply as your license might no longer be valid in your state. In other states, such as Mississippi, it never expires. Since this varies by state, be sure to get up to snuff on the details of yours.
Whatever you do, do not lock things in with any new vendors you may have fallen in love with for your new elopement or intimate ceremony until you know if your marriage license will still be valid on your new date. If not, get things squared away at the courthouse first.
Did you switch the state in which you’re having your legal union? If you’re in a hurry to elope, know that you need to get married in the state where you apply for your marriage license—marriage licenses don’t transfer from state to state.
For instance, if you live in Phoenix, you can’t apply for a marriage license in Arizona, then head to California with hopes of making your union legal in the Golden State.
Cement this to memory: You must apply for your marriage license in the state in which you intend on getting legally married.
Then, your marriage license gets filed in the state—and, in some cases, the county—you get married in, not the state you reside in. This applies to all 50 states. If you elope in Vegas, your marriage license will get filed in the marriage bureau there (along with millions of others, including Elvis’s).
And to clear up a ton of confusion, you don’t need to be a resident of the state where you’re eloping in order to get married there.
In a rush to do the damn thing? In the U.S., laws regarding the waiting period vary by state. The waiting period is the time between when you apply for the marriage license and when it’s issued. In many states, there’s no waiting period, so you can apply for the marriage license and get married on the same day (hello, Las Vegas). In others, the waiting period can be waived under certain circumstances; New Orleans, for instance, will waive its 24-hour waiting period if you’re both residents of Louisiana.
As weddings become smaller and much more intimate, many couples are opting to have a family member or close friend officiate their ceremony. This makes for a truly touching experience, and today it’s pretty simple to become an officiant online. Sites such as American Marriage Ministries offer free online ordination and tons of helpful resources (yours truly got ordained through AMM).
It’s important to note, however, that online ordination is not legally recognized in two states, Virginia and Tennessee, for reasons I won’t dive into here. If you intend on getting married in either of these states, you must hire an officiant who has not been ordained online. You can request a list of civil celebrants from the courthouse in the county where you’re marrying, or hire a minister or reverend who has been ordained the old-fashioned way (this is true for every state).
Just be sure that whoever performs the legal union returns the signed marriage license to the courthouse for filing.
One sweet tip to leave you with: Many officiants are now bringing brand-new pens to each ceremony to keep things safe when signing the marriage license. Consider buying a special pen for signing yours, which then becomes an additional memento from your special day. We suggest a calligraphy or fountain pen, which look quite classy in photos.
Always check the state or county website (ending in “.gov”) for the most up-to-date information regarding marriage licenses, as circumstances continue to change due to Covid-19.