How can I get a Marriage License in the United States?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2019
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The procedure for getting a marriage license in the US varies from state to state, and individual counties may impose additional restrictions. The main points on which obtaining a marriage license differ is wait time to get the license, cost, whether the state requires blood tests, and how long the license will be valid. Age also used to be a considerable differing factor in most states, but now only Nebraska has an age requirement different than 18. In Nebraska, you must be 19 in order to get a marriage license. Some states will permit younger people to marry if they have parental permission or are legally emancipated.

What you will do, in most cases, when you apply for a marriage license is to apply at the county clerk office. It is usually located near the other state court offices, though in some states, like Nevada, you can get a marriage license from a registered chapel. You may need to make an appointment to apply, so you might want to call ahead. Usually, you just show up at the county clerk’s office during regular business hours. Note most county clerks observe all federal holidays, and generally have “banker’s hours,” from about 8am to 5pm.


At the time you obtain your marriage license both potential spouses should bring documentation to prove they are who they claim to be. This may include a driver’s license, social security card, and/or birth certificate. If you are not a citizen of the United States, you may also need to bring proof of legal right to be in the US. Such proof could include a green card, visa, and usually a passport.

Before you obtain a license, some states may request that you undergo a blood test. This used to be required in almost every state, but now only 12 states still ask you to take one. The purpose behind the blood test is to type the blood of both parties entering the marriage. A negative blood type in the mother can mean problems with future pregnancies if the father has a positive blood type. The goal of blood typing was to prevent the devastating effects of Rh incompatibility.

Cost for obtaining the marriage license varies from between 4-80 US dollars (USD). Most states offer a license for approximately 40 USD. A state that requires blood testing will cost a little more since you have to pay for this, usually about 50-100 USD.

Most states have no waiting period between applying for and receiving a license. Some states need a day to get papers in order. A handful of states take three to six days to prepare the marriage license. Some states also impose a waiting period between the time you get your license and the time you can legally marry. At the most this waiting period is three days, and the majority of states do not have a waiting period.

A marriage license may have an expiration date, usually a generous three months to a year. A few states have no expiration date. You should check with your state two to three months prior to marrying to see when they recommend initiating the license process.

Once you have your marriage license, hold onto it. It normally needs to be filed with the county clerk after a marriage has taken place in order to make the marriage legally binding. Some ministers and judges perform this service for the couple, but you should definitely have someone responsible keep the license at hand for signing after a marriage has taken place.

In all cases, check with your town or country clerk prior to getting a marriage license. Rules on requirements for a license can change from time to time. Again, it’s best to do this several months ahead of a marriage so that failure to get a marriage license doesn’t hold up a wedding.


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Discuss this Article

Post 3

Hrquir, you have a really valid point that classes may be a solid addition to be required for marriage licenses. This may aid couples in making a more informed decision that will better equip them for their future together. I feel that this will give them more information regarding one another, as individuals and members of a team, to assess how they will be able to confront challenges.

Marriage is very challenging, the divorce rate speaking for itself, and may lower the chance of young adults rushing into a union of this intensity.

Post 2

Has there ever been a consideration to have it mandated that couples applying for the license must go through marriage classes? I feel that this would be a great contribution to assist in assuring that couples are prepared for the reality if marriage and all of the challenges that come with it.

Most churches now require the couple to go through classes with a small group or the church official. However, I feel that this is what is causing more ‘shotgun’ marriages and less traditional marriage ceremonies.

All in all, it may benefit couples to have this be required to better prepare them for the union they are going into.

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