For most people, getting married is one of the most memorable days of their lives. With so many details to manage it can be easy to overlook two of the most important parts — obtaining the marriage license and then marriage certificate. The marriage license is what precedes the marriage certificate (received post matrimony). In this guide, we’ll explore how to obtain the marriage license, marriage certificate, frequently asked questions and more!
Difference Between a Marriage License and Certificate
A marriage license and marriage certificate legitimize the union in the eye of the law but they are distinct from each other.
The certificate is issued as an abstract of the information taken from the marriage license and is acceptable as evidence that a marriage was finalized and recorded. After the ceremony, the marriage license is returned to the Clerk of Circuit Court to be filed and recorded.
Before your marriage ceremony, you first get a marriage license. You can apply for this in-person or online and typically both parties need to be age 18 or older (those under 18 will need consent from one or both parents depending on the state). In Florida for example, obtaining a marriage license allows you to get married anywhere in the state so the particular county it was purchased from does not limit you. If you obtain a marriage license in Florida, you will need to either attend a premarital course from a registered provider or wait three days for the license to go into effect (non-Florida residents are not required to abide by the waiting period). You’ll usually be able to find a registry of online premarital course providers on the clerk of courts website like this one.
Check out this Courthouse Wedding for Immigration: Complete Guide
A courthouse marriage is non-religious in nature and legally binding. As the name suggests, it takes place in a courthouse or it can be at city hall within the U.S. At the end of the ceremony, you receive a marriage certificate which is considered an official government document that can later be provided when applying for a marriage green card. Click the link above to learn about this cost-effective and fast way to get married!
Checklist of Marriage License Requirements
Prior to getting the marriage license, you’ll need to have a plan about the place you’ll be getting married because the marriage license needs to be obtained in the same county. Depending on the state and county you should also know how long the marriage license is good for before it expires. So if the marriage license in your county expires after 90 days you’ll have to line up the dates of your wedding so it’s still valid by that point. What happens if it expires before you get married? You’ll have to file for it again but do so at least a week before the wedding in case there’s a waiting period.
Take the following items with you to get your marriage license at the county clerk’s office:
Tip: If you can make an appointment, that may save you time waiting!
- Federal/state government photo I.D. card
- Driver’s license
- U.S. Military I.D.
- State I.D. card
- Alien registration card
Whichever item you choose to bring, make sure it displays the correct legal name and date of birth. If you’ve been issued a Social Security Number then you will be asked to provide that as well during the application process for your marriage license. If one partner is not currently a U.S. citizen, they can use their alien registration number as well. If any children have been born (prior to marriage) you may need to complete an Affirmation of Common Child(ren). For those who have a divorce in their past history, be sure to keep your divorce decree or certificate since you will need it later on for immigration purposes. If the divorce happened in the United States you can contact the county clerk’s office or clerk of the court in the state the divorce occurred. If one partner is widowed, bring the death certificate.
In some states, you may need to have a witness present for the marriage license application. Inquire with your county clerk’s office.
What Happens After the Wedding Ceremony
So you’ve obtained your marriage license, you had the marriage ceremony and now it’s time to have the license signed and the officiant can submit it to the county’s office. After that, you’ll receive your marriage certificate! Do not try to bypass the legal system and get a fake marriage certificate online. This is considered fraud and there are serious consequences.
Genuine Relationship Evidence
In terms of your immigration case, USCIS may ask for proof of cohabitation in addition to the real marriage certificate. If you do not currently live together, discuss this with your lawyer. You will likely need to provide a letter to USCIS detailing why you live apart and when you intend to share a common residence. This won’t be an automatic roadblock to obtaining a green card if you can demonstrate a valid reason why you do not live together currently.
Copies of the following can be provided and they should name both spouses:
- Property title/deed
- Lease documents
- Utility bills
Another great way to demonstrate proof of the relationship is children born. Copies of the children’s birth certificate (listing both spouses), adoption paperwork or school/medical records can be provided. Additionally, photos of the family together.
Other Forms of Proof
The strongest evidence for your case will be things like joint bank accounts, insurance policies and joint household bills but below are some other forms of proof, while weaker, that can bolster your case for immigration officials:
- Photos of the family/wedding
- Travel receipts
- Text messaging/phone records
- Receipts for gifts purchased for each other
Preparing for the Green Card Interview
After you get married and both are in the U.S. the foreign-born partner will need to attend their green card interview at a local USCIS field office along with their partner. You may or may not be interviewed together – this will depend on the immigration officer.
Learn more about Marriage-Based Green Cards in this guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions related to submitting proof of marriage for immigration purposes and genuine relationship evidence.
How does USCIS verify marriage?
They do so by carefully reviewing all the previously mentioned forms of proof you submit like your marriage certificate, joint accounts, etc.
When do I need my official marriage certificate for the purposes of immigration?
When filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, you will need to submit a copy of the marriage certificate and also have a copy available for the green card interview.
Is there a fee to get a marriage license?
There is a fee to obtain a marriage license and it ranges from state-to-state.
Are blood tests required for a marriage license?
No, they are not required.
What should you bring if one partner was previously married?
The partner that was previously married should know the exact date of the last divorce.
What documents can be used for proof of marriage?
Apart from a marriage license and certificate, joint bank account statements can be used to show the marriage is bonafide as well as proof of cohabitation like deeds or titles for property owned together, life insurance policies showing coverage for both partners, joint health or auto policies, etc. Talk to your immigration attorney about what the best proof of relationship documents are for your case.
What if I got married in a different country and the real marriage certificate is not in English?
You should have any official documents that are not in English translated professionally.
How do I get a copy of my marriage certificate from my home country?
Learn how to determine the issuing authority where your marriage occurred with the help of the U.S. Department of State.
What should I do if my name changed?
If you changed your last name after getting married then the marriage certificate can be used as evidence of such however if it changed because of a divorce, you will need to submit evidence of such.
How do I get my marriage certificate?
After the marriage ceremony, the license will be signed and the officiant will be returned to the Clerk of Circuit Court to be filed and recorded.
How can I get a copy of my marriage certificate?
You can typically request certified copies by mail or online. Check the county clerk’s office in the place you were married and filed it.
What should the marriage certificate show?
It should show the names of both partners, the place and date of marriage.
What if I don’t have a marriage certificate because I had a religious or traditional wedding ceremony?
Unfortunately, this may not be considered an official wedding by the government agency if you don’t have an official marriage certificate to prove it. Discuss this situation with your immigration lawyer to determine the best course of action.
How We Can Help
VisaNation Law Group marriage green card lawyers have assisted clients from all backgrounds obtain permanent residency. The entire immigration process can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start and that’s why it’s best to schedule a consultation.