What is a Marriage Certificate?

Amanda Barnhart

A marriage certificate is a legal document that allows two individuals to wed, or proclaims them as a legally married couple. In most areas, a couple must obtain a marriage license prior to the ceremony. After the event, a marriage certificate is usually signed by the newly married couple, as well as the person who performed the ceremony, and by any official witnesses.

A marriage certificate.
A marriage certificate.

Some states incorporate the marriage certificate with the marriage license to create a single document. This is typically then resubmitted to a court or a government office, so that the couple can obtain an official marital document. This is then used as proof of the pair's status as a married couple.

The certificate is the legal document authorizing two individuals to wed.
The certificate is the legal document authorizing two individuals to wed.

The cost of a marriage license or certificate varies by state, or jurisdiction. The fee for the document must be paid at the time the couple obtains the license, and some courts and government offices only accept certain types of payment. In most countries, both members of the engaged couple must be present and show legal identification to purchase a license or a certificate of marriage.

Many areas impose a waiting period on the couple, after the marriage licenses or certificate is issued. They may have to wait several days, or even weeks, after obtaining the document, before they can legally marry. Most marriage certificates also have an expiration date. If the couple gets married after the expiration date, the document will not be valid, and it is likely the government will not view the marriage as legal.

Most jurisdictions have age requirements for individuals who wish to marry. In the United States, most individuals must be 18 years old to be legally wed. Most states allow younger people to get married, if they have written and notarized parental consent. Some states allow pregnant teenagers, and teenagers who already have children, to marry before they turn 18 without parental consent.

Family members and people who are already married and have not finalized a divorce are not permitted to get a marriage certificate in most U.S. states, and in many other countries as well. Some jurisdictions impose other requirements on a couple before they can get a certificate. Pre-marital counseling and blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases are common requirements for marriage licenses and subsequent marriage certificates.

The marriage certificate that is issued after a couple weds serves as legal proof of the marriage. It is often used for one or both individuals to legally change their names, and for tax purposes. A marriage certificate is often required for other legal purposes, such as drafting a will, loan, mortgage, and for changing a name on record with an employer.

Both parties must be 18 years old to get married in the United States.
Both parties must be 18 years old to get married in the United States.

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