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Most of us think that we already know everything there is to know about getting married and what's involved. We know that we need to apply for a marriage license. How many of you already know, though, what comes next? How do you know for sure that your marriage is valid and legally recognized? More importantly, how do you prove it to others who might have questions?

This is where your marriage certificate comes in and it is important. Really really important.

NOTE: For the purposes of this page, we are going to be talking primarily about marriages that have taken place within the United States.

What Is a Marriage Certificate?

A marriage certificate is the legal document that you are going to use when you need to prove that your marriage has been legally recognized by your state and, by extension, the federal government.

There are two types of marriage certificates: certified and not certified (informational).

Didn't I Already Get One of Those Before My Wedding?

Before you got married you had to fill out a marriage license. This is not, technically speaking, the same thing. It is true, though, that in some states it is the exact same document, but it cannot be used as proof of the marriage's validity until your officiant signs it and files it with your local records office (or whichever office is in charge of vital records where you live).

More simply: the marriage license is what you have to file so that you can get married. The marriage certificate is what proves the marriage actually (and legally) happened.

What About the Fancy Looking Certificate I Signed At My Wedding? Won't that Work?

The fancy looking certificate with the pretty fonts and the big spaces for you and your new spouse to sign is really only for the two of you. It won't hold up in court and you won't be able use it to do things like changing your name. For official purposes, you will need the legal (and, typically, more boring looking) marriage certificate.

Why Do I Need This?

There are all lots of reasons to have a certified copy of your marriage certificate on hand. For one thing, you will need the certified copy available when you start to take care of legal things like changing your name.

Of course, in some circumstances (like if you just need to do research, etc); Informational copies of your marriage certificate ought to work just fine.

What's the Difference Between an Informational and Certified Copy?

Typically the only difference between a certified copy and an informational copy of a marriage certificate is the seal that does or does not get applied to the paper on which the certificate is printed.

An informational copy is usually just a plain printed copy of the certificate. It does not contain a seal.

A certified copy will sometimes (depending on the issuing state) be printed on specific security paper. It will always have a raised seal applied to its pages. The seal might not be easy to see but you can definitely feel the bumps if you run your fingers over the paper.

Who Can Get a Certified Copy?

Not everyone is able to get a certified copy of a marriage certificate.

Almost the only people who are allowed to request certified copies of marriage certificates are the two people named on the certificate, spouses of the people married by the certificate (in the event that both parties on the document are no longer married), and immediate family members (parents, grandparents, children, siblings) of the people named on the certificate.

If you aren't one of these people, there are still options available to you. You can have one of the people named above give their written consent to have your request filled. You can also try to prove that you need the certified copy to prove that you need to protect personal or property rights.

If you don't meet any of these criteria, you can still request an informational copy of the certificate.

This varies from city to city and from state to state. Make sure you call ahead to get the right information for where you live.

Which Kind of Marriage Certificate Should I Get?

If you are able, it is definitely in your best interest to obtain a certified copy of the marriage certificate. For one thing, you will need your copy to be certified if you have to submit it for anything legally or governmentally-related (like legally changing your name, getting a new social security card, etc).

If you are just doing research, or aren't able to get a certified copy, an informational copy should be sufficient. In fact, informational copies can be sufficient for most purposes, so long as they aren't related to anything governmental.

How Do I Order My Marriage Certificate?

There are a few different ways that you can order a marriage certificate.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you have all of the proper documentation ready to go. Each state will have different requirements. Some states will require you to fill out a request form to order the certificate. You will also need to present an official form of ID like a current Driver's License, state-issued ID card or Passport. Call ahead to make sure you know exactly what you need.

You should also make sure that you know exactly how much it is going to cost to have your certificate printed and certified. The cost isn't usually large, but it is better to know ahead of time so that you are not surprised. It is also in your best interest to make sure you have the proper type of payment ready. Some states accept debit cards and checks. Others do not. Make sure you know what your state needs from you!

Ordering In Person

The easiest way to get your marriage certificate is to visit your local records office or courthouse and make the request in person. The process should only takes a few minutes to have the certificate printed out and, if needed, certified.

Obviously that few minutes does not include time you might spend waiting in line. Even if you have to wait in line for a while, though, you'll have an easier time when you order your certificate this way.

Over the Phone

Most jurisdictions do not allow you to request a certified marriage certificate over the phone. There are a lot of reasons for this. The biggest reason is that you are going to need to provide certain documents and forms of identification to prove that you have a right to the information that you are trying to get. This is not something that can be done over the phone.

Some cities and states, however, might allow you to phone in a request for an informational copy of a marriage certificate.

By Fax

If your local town or state isn't going to allow you to request your marriage certificate over the phone, they might let you submit the request via fax.

There is usually an extra fee for obtaining a copy of your marriage certificate via faxed request. There are further fees if you want your request to be expedited. The fees can be pretty spendy. Make sure that you know what they are before you agree to them. It might be worth the monetary savings to just go in to the office and wait in line.

Over the Internet

You can also request certified copies of your marriage certificate online. Most states have paired up with independent organizations like Vital Chek, Background USA, and Vital Rec to offer this service.

Before you just jump over to, say, Vital Chek—make sure that this is the organization that is endorsed by your state. A quick search of your state's Department of Health or Department of Records website will tell you which organization the state prefers you use. Some states will even offer the service through their own websites.

Requesting certified copies of your marriage certificate online can be expensive. Many of the organizations that offer this service require you to pay with a major credit card. Some can charge upwards of forty dollars just to have the certificate printed. If you don't want to wait for a few weeks to receive your certified marriage certificate in the mail, you will have to pay an extra charge to expedite the process.

The fees vary from state to state. They vary from document to document. They vary from regular processing to expedited processing. Make sure that you do your research before placing your order.

If you live locally, it's a lot more time and cost effective to simply pay a visit to your local records office to get your certificate printed and certified.

If, however, you no longer live within the state in which you were married, these Internet services offer you a fantastic and reliable way to obtain the forms and certificates you need.

IMPORTANT: You can do more with these services than just ordering certified copies of your marriage certificate. You can also order certified copies of birth certificates, death certificates, divorce settlements, and other vital records. The cost for these things varies, so it might be a good idea to shop around for the best pricing if you have that option available to you.

What If I Need To Travel Overseas?

Believe it or not, there are some situations in which you are going to need to prove that your marriage is legal when you are traveling (or living) abroad. If you encounter (or think you will encounter) one of these situations, you might need to have your marriage certificate authenticated with an apostille.

An apostille is an authentication that a document is valid, legal and binding. It is recognized by every country that is participated in the Hauge Convention. Each state is going to have a different method of helping you get an apostille for your certified marriage certificate. You can usually find this information on your state's health or records website. It is often better, however, to actually call the office yourself. This way you can be sure that you actually have up to date information and aren't relying on a website that nobody has had the time to update for a while.

It might also be helpful to contact the US State Department of Authentications to make sure that you've got all of your ducks in a row.

What If I Got Married Overseas?

Almost exclusively, a city, county or state is only going to have marriage certificates on file for people who actually got married there. If, for example, you were married in Prague, you probably won't be able to obtain a copy of your marriage certificate from the records office for Eugene, Oregon.

So what are you supposed to do?

The best course of action you have when you need to be able to prove that you are legally married, is to contact the United States Embassy or Consulate office in the country that the marriage ceremony took place.

Here is where you can find a list of the different Consular Offices for the United States.

You can also visit the State Department's website to find out more about getting married overseas.

Hey! What If I Need to Prove that I'm Not Married?

We aren't sure why you would need this, but we understand that sometimes things happen. Identities get mixed up, etc.

While it isn't common in all states, some states actually do issue a Letter of No-Marriage. Often you will need extenuating circumstances to obtain this letter (like proving you aren't already married so that you can get married in a foreign country).

First, you are going to have to do a search for marriage certificates in your name. This is easier if you have a specific state in which to search, as marriage certificates aren't filed nationally; they are only filed with a specific state.

If no marriage certificate can be found you can request a notarized copy of the No-Marriage Letter from the state in which you ran your search. There is typically a specific form that you are going to need to fill out. You might also have to prove your identity before the letter will be issued. There may also be associated fees involved.

Remember: this varies from state to state so check with your local authorities as to how you can prove that you AREN'T (or WEREN'T) married.

It's easy to get intimidated by the process of getting married—especially in terms of taking care of all of the legal stuff that happens after the ceremony. This is why knowing how and why you should get a copy of your marriage certificate is important. Hopefully this has shown you that the process doesn't need to be a scary one. In fact, we're willing to bet that you'll find the process of getting (and using) your marriage certificate is going to be downright easy!

49 Comments

  1. Helen Filippopoulos

    Hi i recently got married and want to change my surname to my married name and also change my given name from Helen to Eleni. . Im greek orthodox so i was married in an orthodox church .. was i given the right marriage certificate. . Kind regards Eleni

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Helen. A first name change would require you to go through a court petitioned name change.

      Reply
  2. Jin

    Hi, I signed marriage certificate with my spouse before our wedding. However, we put different address on the register form since we did not live together yet. In this case, which address should marriage certificate will be mail to? Or do I have to pick up from the county clerk?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Jin. You would supply your current mailing address at the time you order a certified copy of your marriage certificate.

      Reply
  3. cecilia rettig

    Hi,
    I have an unusual case apparently: when i married almost 24 years ago I changed my name on SS card to read my maiden name and hyphenated husband's name. However, I never used the hyphenated name and yes we are still married. so all of my records: paycheck. passport, drivers license, IRS records (signed jointly); credit cards everything that identifies me is in my maiden name as I had before marriage. Challenge: I am ready to retire with a defined schools benefit program and PERS needs to know my SS info matches my current identity. SS however is saying OMG I screwed up! I am awaiting a local SS office's supervisor's "decision" to allow the change to my name so I can submit my pension benefits (this does NOT include SS retirement benefits at this time.) Any advice?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Cecilia. At this point, it would be useful to get a decision from your local SS office. This would be the most expeditious route, assuming it's decided in your favor. Yours is an understandable situation, and they very well may accommodate you. If they do not, then you can go through a court petitioned name change to reaffirm your maiden name. Such a document would satisfy the SS office. It's not a complicated process. It just takes a short amount of time and a fee to be paid. So, in the end, you do have a way to resolve it.

      Reply
  4. shawna

    Can u get a marriage license in a different county if you are still married In another county

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Shawna. You must be unmarried to get a marriage license, regardless of county.

      Reply
  5. Katrina

    I've been married for 6 years and I haven't changed my last name and I want to but I misplaced my marriage certificate what should I do .

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Katrina. Contact the recorders office in the county (in some states its the town/city office) where you were married to order a new certified copy of your marriage certificate.

      Reply
  6. Melissa

    Hi,
    A couple of years ago I applied for a marriage license at a wedding chapel but my exfiance & I decided not to go thru witht it due to realizing it was not the correct decision. Its been over 6 years since we have not been together since we decided to go our own ways. Earlier this week i search the public records and shows an application for a marriage license os that going to stay on my record for ever even tho we decided to not get married?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Melissa. Marriage licenses are part of the public record. For both you and your ex-fiance. You can try contacting the office that issued your license to have your record revoked and removed from public search, but it's doubtful it'll be agreed to.

      Reply
  7. beth

    hi we just got married this year February 23rd, then in our certificate of marriage I signed my maiden name, not my husband name, then we get worry coz he told me I should using his name in our marriage certificate, is that true I change my maiden name in to my husband name, thanks

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Beth. It depends on the state. Some require the name used on the certificate to match what you ultimately choose to change it to.

      Reply
      1. beth

        hi thanks for response we are married in Davao City Philippines, then my husband is from Buffalo New York, in our certificate of marriage do I really need to change my last name right away in our from, from my last time to my husband name, bcoz in our from it's our form to both us, nalilito tlga ako hehe, I hope matulungan niyo ako,thanks

        Reply
        1. Valera

          Hi Beth. No, you don't have to change your last name right away—or at all. You can wait it out, then complete the process when you're ready.

          Reply
          1. beth

            thank u so much its a big help for me, yeah that was i'm thinking no need to change my last name right away,my husband want me to change my last name right away I told him we have to wait till everything is done,

  8. Cindy

    Hello! I got married in Hawaii about 6 weeks ago and was told I would be sent a certified marriage certificate but that has not happened. I live in MT and really need to get my name changed. Do I need to call somewhere in Hawaii to get a certified copy? I can't go to the clerks office where I live to get it, correct? Thanks for your help!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Cindy. Hawaii will send you a copy of your marriage certificate 2 to 4 months after your marriage takes place. If you need it sooner, you'll have to order a certified copy from the Hawaii Vital Records office.

      Reply
  9. Teresa

    I have 2 first names. I would like to remove one and just have one instead. Also I'd like to make a middle name for myself by creating a shorter version of my maiden name. Then lastly, have my husbands last name. When I sign my marriage certificate do I just sign it with my newly created name? And will I have to after that process it through the courts in Nevada because it's a more complex change?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Teresa. You would have to go through the courts, so what you specify on your marriage license wouldn't be of much importance. A court petitioned name change will allow you to change all parts of your name to whichever you choose.

      Reply
  10. Casey

    Hello,
    I was recently married in Massachusetts and have been unable to find out how I get a copy of my marriage certificate. Vitalchek does not show record of it and I'm afraid I'm going to have to keep calling the town hall until they get it. Is this normal? Should I get a copy in the mail even though I haven't yet paid for one?

    Reply
  11. McKayla

    My husband and I got married secretly in NYC, but are having a wedding this summer in NJ. Only one of our family members knows that we are married, and we aren't ready to tell the rest yet. Our officiant/pastor doesn't know either… does a remarriage license look the same/have the same info on it as a marriage license, or can we obtain a New Jersey marriage license since we were previously married in New York? We'd rather avoid telling people so soon if we can help it.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Our officiant/pastor doesn't know either

      He/she will know once you present him with the remarriage license.

      does a remarriage license look the same/have the same info on it as a marriage license, or can we obtain a New Jersey marriage license since we were previously married in New York?

      Yes, it's the same application. For New Jersey, there's a "marriage" and "remarriage" checkbox on the application. You'd have to tick the remarriage option, then fill out details about the prior marriage.

      Reply
  12. Julia

    I used to work for a cruise line, my husband and me got married in Flrorida( Port Canaveral) ,he is from India and me from Peru ( we are not US resident). We just gave our passport copies, due to we were not able to have the originals. My question is: I did not legalize my marriage certificate and i just realized there is a due date in the Marriage certificate, I did not legalize my marriage in my country's council to make legal in my country and neither he did. Now, we are no longer together and he lives in India and I am in Peru and we want to get divorce .

    I was in USA for a period of 5 month and i contacted lawyers and the first thing they asked was if I was a US resident. I told them not and they told me they cannot help me. How this can work out , are there any solutions for this. Am legally married in USA even if i did not legalize my marriage certificate . Thank you in advance for any help. ( I got married in 2010)

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Julia. You'd have to contact an attorney in Peru to proceed with your divorce.

      Reply
  13. Desmond ajih

    I got married last Thursday,when am I expected to get my marriage certificate as the promise to mail it to us..how long does it take in houston texas

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Desmond. Whomever officiated your wedding was required to send the completed marriage license back to the Texas county clerk office for recording within 30 days of your marriage ceremony. You'll have to contact the county clerk office where you purchased your license to determine if and when they received it, and when they'll dispatch your copy. Your certified copy.

      Reply
  14. Sara

    I lost my marriage certificate and have since moved to another state. Can I get another one with the state I live in on it instead of the state I was married in?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Can I get another one with the state I live in on it instead of the state I was married in?

      You'll have to get another copy from the state you were married in.

      Reply
  15. BethJo

    Hi Valera, I got married last July and I signed the marriage license with my maiden name, they just gave me the fancy one, now I need copies of my license but I want to use my marriage name, are they able to send me a copy with a marriage name? or is going to be the same that the big one.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi BethJo. If you're in need of a copy of your marriage license, the issuing office will only send you what's on file; no changes. If you need a copy of your marriage certificate, the recorder's office will typically only allow modifications if there's an error on their part.

      Reply
  16. Lisa

    Hello,
    My husband and I got married in Sep. in MO but we live in Texas. we received a copy of our marriage license in the mail from MO. The copy has a raised seal under the deputy's signature. Does this make it a certified copy?

    Reply
  17. Ashley

    hello,
    We were married a few weeks ago in Indiana. Our marriage certificate has my maiden name on it, not my desired married name. Was wondering if I would have to apply for a legal court name change or if the social security office would accept the certificate as a proof of name change as I want to have his last name?

    Reply
  18. Julia

    Hi, I filed for a marriage license and signed it in front of a judge, I did this in az… I did a search for my marriage certificate and it was never filed… Just the license.. Does this mean I was never married??

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Julia. In Arizona, I believe the certified copy of your license is the equivalent of a certificate. This means you are married. Such documents should be filed in the Superior Court. It's often referred to as an abstract, certified copy.

      Reply
  19. annatjie espag

    My husband passed away …2015,,,manpower need marriage sertificate but my I'd issued on my married name now I wait 7 months already paid 75 rand …

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Annatjie. I'm not sure what you're asking here. Are you saying you purchased a certified copy of your marriage certificate which never arrived? If so, have you phoned the office which holds your certificate to determine if they ever received your request and if it was sent out? If you paid by check, was it cleared?

      Reply
  20. Arianna

    Hello, I have been divorced for 15 years now and I will be marrying my fiance in a month. My question is that we now have the marriage license and I don't want to show his family that I'm a divorced woman as it shows on the marriage license. Do you think the Register of Deeds could omit the "reason" of separation from the marriage license if I go and request the change?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Arianna. It will reflect whatever you write in. Marriage license applications don't typically ask for a reason why a divorce ended, just when it ended. Some require a certified copy of a divorce decree to validate the marriage ended, but this document isn't recorded alongside the marriage license/certificate. You can contact your local Deed's office to verify this.

      Reply
  21. Heather

    Hello, this may be a strange request. My mother has to prove her marriage for a name change back in 1963 in Georgia,. She doesn't remember where or when she got married just an around about month. Will they be able to look up a marriage license based on time frame?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Will they be able to look up a marriage license based on time frame?

      Yes, they should. She can even call the office where her certificate was recorded to determine if they can find it before ordering one. Such offices often prefer you contact them before mailing in a request form with payment so that they can confirm if it's available in their records.

      Reply
  22. Megan

    To get just a copy of our marriage licence do both of us have to go or can my husband just go get it by himself?

    Reply
  23. sway

    I got married back in 2015 through dallas county but can't find my marriage on public records. Does this mean that I'm not really married?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Sway. No, your marriage is still valid. You can contact the Texas Vital Records office to perform a look up.

      Reply

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