How to Get Married in California

Marriage has a unique set of procedures and requirements that can vary significantly from one place to another. In California, these regulations can differ based on county jurisdictions and local laws. Whether you dream of a quaint ceremony in a historic mission or a grand celebration in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper, this guide is your starting point to understanding how to make that dream a reality in California.

Read on for a clear, step-by-step guide on what to expect, what to prepare, and how to navigate the legalities of getting married in the Golden State.

Basic Requirements for Getting Married in California

Under California marriage law, the requirements to obtain a marriage license are as follows:

 

  • Both parties must be unmarried and at least 18 years of age. For minors seeking to wed, California requires approval from a guardian and a court order
  • Both individuals must be consenting to the marriage
  • Both must have capacity, meaning they are of sound mind and understand what marriage will mean
  • Both parties must appear together before the clerk
  • Both parties must possess a valid government-issued picture identification that includes the full legal name and date of birth
  • If either party has been granted a marriage dissolution (divorce) within the last three (3) months, a copy of the final judgment is required
  • Applicable fees – checks are not accepted

Marriage License Requirements

Central to this process is obtaining a marriage license, which in its essence, is more than just a formality—it’s a legal affidavit. When you sign your marriage license application, you’re not just filling out a form; you’re making a sworn statement. This declaration asserts that to the best of your knowledge, there are no legal barriers to your marriage. It’s a promise of honesty and transparency, ensuring that your union starts on a foundation of trust and legality.

To acquire this essential document, couples need to visit a County Clerk’s office within California. It’s important to remember that wherever you plan to hold your ceremony in the state, a California marriage license is necessary for your marriage to be legally recognized. This rule holds true whether you’re a long-time resident, a newcomer to the state, or even if you’re just visiting for your special day.

Documentation Needed for Marriage License

You’ll only need two things:

  • Your valid, government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, passport, or state-issued ID card
  • Your marriage license application, which you will fill out at the County Clerk’s office

If a minor is seeking a marriage license, they must provide a certified copy of the court order.

Types of Marriage Licenses in California

In California, couples have the option to choose between two types of marriage licenses: public and confidential. The public marriage license is, as the name suggests, a public record. Once your marriage is solemnized and the license is registered, the details of your license become accessible to the general public. This type of license is a common choice for many couples.

On the other hand, a confidential marriage license offers an extra layer of privacy. The information contained within a confidential license is not made publicly available. This option is ideal for couples who wish to keep their personal details, such as their address or birthdate, out of the public domain. It’s a choice that caters to those seeking more discretion in their personal affairs.

Can You Apply Online?

Yes! The application form is available online.

Who Signs The California Marriage License?

In California, the signing of a marriage license is an essential step in validating the union.

Firstly, the couple themselves must sign the license. This is a declaration of their intent to marry and a confirmation of the details provided in the application. It’s a personal affirmation of their commitment to each other, made official through their signatures.

The officiant of the ceremony must also sign the license. This signature confirms that the marriage ceremony took place as per legal guidelines. It is a testament to the fact that the couple has fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of marriage in accordance with California law. The officiant can be anyone legally recognized to perform marriages in the state of California, including religious figures, judges, or legally designated individuals.

California law also requires at least one witness to sign the marriage license, though two are typically included. The witness or witnesses attest to the occurrence of the marriage ceremony, confirming its validity and the couple’s consent. Their signatures serve as an external verification of the marriage, adding an additional layer of legal credibility.

Once these signatures – the couple, the officiant, and the witness(es) – are affixed to the marriage license, it must be returned to the County Clerk’s office. Here, it is processed and recorded, marking the final step in the legal validation of the marriage. With all signatures in place, the marriage is recognized by law.

How Long Does The Marriage Process Take In California?

The duration of the marriage process in California can vary depending on several factors, including the county in which you are applying for a marriage license, the scheduling of the ceremony, and any waiting periods that might apply.

Here’s a general breakdown:
 

  • Obtaining the Marriage License: Once you apply for a marriage license, it is typically issued immediately by the County Clerk’s office. In California, there is no waiting period between receiving the license and when the ceremony can be legally performed. However, the time taken to get an appointment and complete the application process might vary.
  • Validity Period: After issuance, the marriage license is valid for 90 days. Within this period, the marriage ceremony must take place for the license to remain valid.
  • Scheduling the Ceremony: The time it takes to schedule a ceremony can vary greatly. If you’re having a civil ceremony at a County Clerk’s office, it might be possible to have it on the same day as the license issuance or shortly thereafter, depending on availability. For those planning a wedding with an officiant at a different location, the timeline depends on the arrangements with the officiant and the venue.
  • Finalizing the Marriage: After the ceremony, the officiant has 10 days to return the completed marriage license to the County Clerk’s office for registration. The processing time for the Clerk’s office to record the marriage and issue a certified copy of the marriage certificate can vary, but typically it takes a few weeks.
  • Overall Timeline: The entire process, from applying for the license to having the marriage legally recognized, can be quite quick, potentially within a few days if a civil ceremony is chosen and appointments are readily available. However, for more traditional weddings with advance planning, the process can be part of a much longer timeline, often determined by personal preferences and wedding preparations.

It’s always advisable to check with your local County Clerk’s office for specific details and to make necessary appointments well in advance, especially during peak wedding seasons when there might be higher demand for services.

How Much Does It Cost To Get Married In California?

Getting married in California involves various costs, with the price of the marriage license being the initial expense. Depending on the county, a public marriage license typically ranges from $70 to $105, while a confidential license costs about $85 to $110. For those opting for a civil ceremony at a County Clerk’s office, an additional fee is required, usually between $35 to $50. If you choose an external officiant for your ceremony, their fees can vary widely, potentially costing anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

The choice of wedding venue also significantly impacts the overall cost, ranging from affordable options like public parks (requiring a permit) to more expensive, exclusive locations.

Additional expenses to consider for your special day include attire, rings, decorations, photography, and catering, all of which can vary greatly based on personal preferences and the scale of the wedding.

After the ceremony, obtaining a certified copy of your marriage certificate incurs a fee, typically around $15 to $30 per copy.

It’s important to remember that these figures are baseline costs associated with the legal and ceremonial aspects of a wedding in California. The total cost can significantly increase based on the choices made for the overall style and size of the wedding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a witness required for getting married in California, and if so, how many?

Yes, California law requires at least one witness for your marriage ceremony. However, you can have two witnesses sign your marriage license. Their role is to attest to the occurrence of the ceremony and the mutual consent of the couple.

Can non-residents of California get married in the state, and are there any additional requirements?

Non-residents of California are welcome to get married in the state. There are no additional legal requirements for non-residents, and the process for obtaining a marriage license is the same as for residents.

After the wedding, how do we obtain a certified copy of our marriage certificate in California?

To obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate, you must request it from the County Clerk’s office where your marriage license was issued. This can often be done by mail, online, or in person, depending on the county. There’s a nominal fee for each certified copy, and you’ll need to provide some basic information about your wedding and identification to process the request.