Whether you're having a city hall wedding or tying the knot in front of hundreds of friends and relatives, you need a state marriage license to make it official. Different states have different requirements to get one, and in most states, the license will expire if you don't use it within a certain amount of time. Once you get the license and have your wedding, you'll file the license and a marriage certificate to record that you're lawfully wed.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The marriage license expiration period varies from state to state.
Marriage License Expiration and Requirements
In most states, you can go to your local county or city clerk's office to get a marriage license. Exactly what you need to present to get the license varies by state, but you generally need to prove who you are and that you're old enough to legally get married. That usually means it's a good idea to bring government-issued identification, such as driver's licenses or passports for both participants. In some states, you may also need to provide your Social Security number or show your birth certificate.
Once you have the marriage license, keep in mind that some states require a waiting period between when you get your license and when you actually get married. This is designed to give either party some time to change his or her mind. This period can range from just one day in states such as Delaware and Illinois to five days in Ohio and Wisconsin. Make sure you plan ahead and know your state's laws so you can get your license in time for your wedding.
In most states, marriage licenses also expire if you get them and don't get married quickly enough. Many states allow 30 days to get married after getting a license, but some have longer periods of time. For instance, if you're getting married in California, you have 90 days to use your license before it expires.
Once you do get married, whoever officiates your wedding will usually file a marriage certificate, signed by both spouses, with the city or county clerk's office, usually with the original license attached. How and where marriage records are filed varies from state to state.
Special Situations and Requirements
Some states also require you to take blood tests before you get married to make sure you're not carrying certain sexually transmitted infections or other communicable diseases like tuberculosis. In some cases, you may be able to waive this requirement if both parties give their written consent. Check with your state to see what the requirements for a marriage license are where you live.
Some states also make special provisions if one of the people involved can't physically come to the state to get married, such as if someone is serving overseas in the military. You may be able to get married by proxy in that case, where someone stands in for the person who is unable to appear in person.
Some states also recognize what is called common-law marriage, where if two people live together as spouses and signal their intention to be married, they can legally be considered married without the formalities of licensing and a ceremony.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.