A marriage license and a marriage certificate are two different documents used in the process of getting married. They are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. The reason for the confusion stems from the fact that a marriage certificate is often just a "certified" copy of the marriage license. However, many counties are changing their terminology to be more clear. 

Before they may get married, a couple needs to obtain a marriage license, which is a legal document. It serves as the couple's marriage license and is issued by the state or municipal government. It must be obtained prior to the wedding ceremony and calls for the exchange of specific information from the couple, including names, residences, and identity. The pair must submit an application for the license, typically at a county clerk's office. Depending on the jurisdiction, the license's validity is often only good for a short time, between 30 and 90 days.

A marriage certificate, on the other hand, is a legal document that proves that a marriage has taken place. It is issued by the state or local government after the couple has been married to prove that the ceremony occured. The certificate typically includes the names of the couple, the date and location of the marriage, and the names of witnesses.  A marriage certificate is needed to update legal documents, change last names, and for other legal purposes.

Understanding the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate is essential. Both documents play a crucial role in the marriage process, and couples should make sure they have both before and after the wedding ceremony. 

Important Differences Between Marriage Licenses and Certificates

People may confuse the two easily, but it's simple. You need a license before you can obtain the certificate. After obtaining the marriage license, couples can have a wedding ceremony where they exchange vows, sign the license, and submit it to be recorded. Once the license is processed, they will receive a marriage certificate as proof of marriage. These are the key differences between the two:

  1. Purpose: A marriage license is a legal document that authorizes a couple to get married, while a marriage certificate is a legal document that proves that a marriage has taken place.
  2. Issuance: Marriage licenses must be obtained before the marriage ceremony, while a marriage certificate is issued 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, depending on the jurisdiction. A marriage certificate, on the other hand, is valid indefinitely.
  4. Information: In a marriage license, it typically includes information about the couple, such as their names, ages, addresses, and other relevant details. A marriage certificate typically includes information about the wedding ceremony, such as the date, time, and location of the ceremony, as well as the names of the couple and the witnesses.

How to Obtain a Marriage License through Courtly

Obtaining a marriage license through Courtly, is as easy as 1-2-3. Once you go on to our onboarding site, you are able to fill out the application that only requires basic information from you.  After choosing the features that you would like to include, all you have to do is make the payment and send the application to your other half to complete with their information.

Once you choose the time and day you would like to hold your ceremony, Courtly will do their best to accommodate your needs and schedule your wedding.  The marriage license issued after the application process is valid for 32 days which gives you a month to settle on a time and date.  Not to be confused with the marriage certificate, (which is issued after the ceremony) that never expires, a marriage license gives you the go ahead from the county to facilitate your wedding.

After the ceremony, the officiant will send the signed paperwork to the county and the couple will receive a marriage certificate in the mail within a couple of weeks.  Generally, getting married under the Courtly platform is cheaper than other options like destination weddings or traditional weddings, so why not take the plunge and let us do the hard work of filing all the paperwork.  All you need to do is attend the virtual ceremony and you'll be married in no time. 


What is a marriage license and why is it necessary?

To legally wed, a couple needs to obtain a marriage license. The marriage would not be recognized by the state or the federal governments without a marriage license. As a result, the couple would not be qualified to receive some legal benefits like tax reductions or the right to jointly make medical decisions. In addition, the marriage ceremony itself would not be regarded as legally binding without a marriage license.

How long is a marriage license valid for?

The validity of a marriage license varies depending on 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. After the expiration date, the couple must apply for a new marriage license to get married legally. Some states may require additional documents or fees for a new license application. It's important for couples to check the expiration date of their marriage license and plan accordingly to avoid any complications on their wedding day.

What information is required to obtain a marriage license?

The specific information required to obtain a marriage license can vary by state or locality, but generally includes the full legal names of both individuals, their ages, their current addresses, their social security numbers or other forms of identification, and any previous marriages and divorces. Additionally, some states may require proof of identity, such as a driver's license or passport, and may have a waiting period before the license can be obtained.

How long does it take to get a marriage license?

Applying for the marriage license too early may result in the license expiring before the wedding ceremony, while applying too late may not leave enough time for processing and could cause delays. Check your county's guidelines to determine how long the license remains valid. It's important to note that you shouldn't wait until the last minute to apply, but also avoid obtaining it too far in advance. 

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

Depending on where the marriage took place, there are several procedures for getting a duplicate of a marriage certificate. Contacting the vital records office in the state or county where the marriage license was issued is typically the first step. The office will normally request specific information, such as the couples' complete names, the time and place of the wedding, and identity documentation from the requester. The vital records office will normally process the request and produce a certified copy of the marriage certificate once the required information has been given and any fees have been paid. The processing and mailing of the certificate to the requester could take a few weeks. If the marriage certificate is needed urgently, some vital records offices may offer expedited services for an additional fee.

Alternatively, some states also offer online portals where marriage certificates can be requested and obtained, like Courtly. They make it easy to get a marriage license and certificate completely online.


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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