Marriage License vs. Marriage Certificate: What You Need to Know

April 5, 2023
5 min

People often confuse the purpose of a marriage license vs. marriage certificate. Understanding the legal differences of government terms can be daunting. It's easy to see why. Many states and countries use different terms to describe similar documents. For example, the term "spouse visa" is common in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. But in other countries, the term "partner visa" is more popular, like New Zealand and Australia.

A man with wedding ring, signing a marriage certificate

The documents involved in getting married are no different. Everyone getting married comes across the terms "marriage license" and "marriage certificate". They are necessary parts of the legal marriage process. While they are often used the same way, it's important to note some key differences.

What is a Marriage License?

The marriage license is what allows you to get married to your future spouse. It's like a permit from the state or local government to have a legal wedding. Every couple needs to get a marriage license before the ceremony takes place.

The marriage license is then shared with an officiant. After the ceremony takes place, the officiant signs the license, which certifies that the wedding did take place. In some counties, it is also the officiant's responsibility to ensure that you met all the legal requirements.

That is why the marriage certificate is often considered a certified marriage license. And often, the license becomes a certificate on the same piece of paper. It turns into an official document attesting to the fact that you were married.

The final certificate generally includes important information about the ceremony and the couple. Your legal names, the date, location of the ceremony, and the names of your witnesses. You will use it as proof of marriage when updating legal statuses or changing your last name.

Important Differences Between Marriage Licenses and Certificates

People may often confuse the two, but it's actually quite simple. Remember, you will need a marriage license before you can get a marriage certificate. To sum it up, here are the key differences between the two documents:

  1. Purpose: A marriage license authorizes a couple to get married. A marriage certificate proves that it has taken place.
  2. Issuance: Couples get a marriage license before the ceremony. While the marriage certificate gets finalized after the ceremony has taken place.
  3. Validity: A marriage license is valid for a limited period of time, usually around 30 to 90 days. A marriage certificate has no validity period. It will only become invalid if the marriage gets dissolved.
  4. Information: A marriage license includes information about the couple, such as their full names and ages. A marriage certificate also includes information about the ceremony, such as the date, location, and names of witnesses.

How to Get a Marriage License through Courtly

We make getting approved for a marriage license as easy as possible. Our team has processed thousands of marriage licenses for couples worldwide. We follow strict protocol to ensure that your marriage is 100% legal.

The first step in your online application is to choose the date you would like to hold your ceremony.  The marriage license issued by the government is only valid for 32 days. That's why you will want to ensure that it's approved in time for your ceremony. If you hit a snag in the application process, we will work with you and the government to get it resolved fast.

After receiving an approved marriage license, it's finally time to schedule your ceremony! We will match you with one of our experienced officiants who will help meet your unique needs. The officiant will also ensure that your ceremony follows any legal requirements. The ceremony typically lasts 15 minutes, but you are welcome to customize it and make it a bigger event.

To find out if online marriage is right for you, you may reach out to our team via chat or on our Contact page. Our skilled team will walk you through the process and help you every step of the way.


What is a marriage license and why is it necessary?

To legally wed, a couple needs to get a marriage license. It is essentially a permit from the government allowing you to marry.The marriage ceremony would not be considered legally binding without a marriage license.

How long is a marriage license valid?

The validity of a marriage license varies in the state or country where it was obtained. In most states in the USA, a marriage license is valid for 30 days to a year from the date of issuance. In Courtly's case, it is valid for 32 days.

What information is required to get a marriage license?

The specific information required to get a marriage license varies. States will always require the full legal names of both individuals and a valid ID. Most will also require a history of any previous marriages.

How long does it take to get a marriage license?

Most counties will issue a marriage license within 7 days. Some counties may have a waiting period before issuing a license. Note that if you apply for a license too early you risk missing the deadline for the ceremony. But applying too late may not leave enough time for processing. Check your county's guidelines to determine when you should begin your application.

What is the process for obtaining a copy of a marriage certificate?

Contacting the vital records office in the state or county where the marriage certificate was issued is typically the first step. The vital records office will normally request specific information, such as your complete names and valid IDs. The processing and mailing of the certificate to the requester could take a few weeks. If you need the marriage certificate urgently, some vital records offices may offer expedited services for an extra fee.

Can you get a marriage license online?

Yes! Some forward-thinking counties have now implemented an online application. However, many will still require you to go to their office for an in-person appointment. Check with your local county to determine their application process.

On the other hand, Courtly knows the importance of convenience and accessibility online. We will help you manage the entire marriage process completely online. Or simply answer any questions you may have about the differences of a marriage license vs. marriage certificate.

Let us handle the paperwork.

Getting married is complicated. Courtly simplifies the process and provides everything necessary to get married online, including providing a licensed officiant who can perform a remote ceremony.

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