The smell of love is in the air. You say your vows and the pastor says ‘you may now kiss the bride.’ Your family members cheer, and some even cry. After the ceremony, you dance your heart out and feast on delicious ribeye steak. It’s the most perfect wedding that you could have imagined. Or so you thought.
You got so lost in the glitz and glam of the wedding that you forgot to turn your marriage license in. After thousands of dollars spent on a wedding and hundreds of hours preparing, you’re not even legally married! If this has happened to you the biggest question you probably have right now is what happens if a marriage license is never turned in? Maybe for months or years but, it’s more important than you may think.
What Happens If a Marriage License is Never Turned in? Are You REALLY Married?
Many questions start to run through your head. Am I going to get a fine? How do I change my name? What happens if a marriage license is never turned in? We get it; when you forget something so critical such as turning in a marriage license, it’s stressful. It’s even more stressful the longer time passes.
The first thing you should do is relax. It happens. You’re not the first to forget and you won’t be the last. Once you’ve realized the mistake, you should try to resolve it as soon as possible. It might hurt your stomach to think about it, but you aren’t legally married.
How a Marriage License Works
Before discussing exactly what happens if you don’t turn in your marriage license, we want to elaborate on how a marriage license works and what a marriage license is.
By definition, a marriage license is a legal document that the bride and groom get before their wedding. The license either comes from your county, state, or some type of religious institution.
In a nutshell, a marriage license is similar to an application to become a married couple. Both you and your partner have to sign it, the officiant signs it, and then you turn it back into the county.
Who is the Officiant That Signs Your Marriage License?
The officiant that signs your marriage license is typically the pastor or priest (if you have a Christian wedding). On the other hand, the officiant in a Jewish wedding is a rabbi and the officiant in an Islamic wedding is an imam. An officiant doesn’t have to be associated with a religion, either.
Does the Officiant Turn the Marriage License into the County?
There’s often confusion as to who turns the marriage license into the county after all parties sign it. The answer is – it depends. In some states, whoever officiated the wedding is the one who has to return the signed marriage license to the county clerk. In other states, the couple can send in the marriage license.
If your officiant is responsible for returning the marriage license, we recommend that you receive a confirmation from him or her. Many times, couples don’t turn in their marriage license because they don’t know how to do it or they don’t know who is doing it. Always ask!
Consequences of Not Turning a Marriage License In
Aside from the stress and panic that comes with realizing you didn’t turn in your marriage license, there are various consequences. On the plus side, most of these are not super severe and are easy to rectify. The most obvious consequence is the fact that you won’t be able to get your marriage certificate.
You Can’t Get Your Marriage Certificate
Without filing your marriage license, you can’t get your marriage certificate. This causes a huge headache, especially for a bride who is changing her name.
Without a marriage certificate, you might not be able to:
- Change your health, car, and life insurance status
- Get a new drivers’ license
- Obtain a new social security card
- Change the name on your credit card
- Change the name on your bank account
- File your name change with the IRS
All of these are important tasks that you must complete after getting married, and any hold-up could impact you financially. In case you ever need to provide an original marriage certificate, you should get at least three certified copies of the certificate.
As you can see, a marriage certificate is much more than a pretty piece of paper you stick in a frame! Without it, you can’t get the ball rolling on your name change.
The Marriage License Will Expire
Depending on the state you live in, your marriage license will expire after a set number of days. Don’t worry, you don’t need to host another wedding if your license expires. Instead, you will have to go through the hassle of getting a new license from the county and having all the appropriate parties sign it.
Check with your state or county officials to see if your marriage license is still valid if you don’t file it within a timely fashion. You could have anywhere from 30 days to one year before it expires.
You Will Have to Pay a Fee for a New Marriage License
If you lose your marriage license or if you let it expire, you will have to pay a fee to get a new marriage license. The fee to replace the marriage license shouldn’t be much more than the cost to get the marriage license in the first place.
The cost of replacing a marriage license can range from $20 to $115, depending on what state you’re in. And in some states, you’ll have to get your replacement from your town instead of the state or county.
What’s the Difference Between a Marriage License and a Marriage Certificate?
Many people don’t understand the main difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate. We hope we’ve cleared up most of the key differences between the two documents.
The marriage license comes before the marriage certificate. It comes before the wedding, too. A marriage license is typically issued by the state, county, or city. It’s similar to an application to get married.
To get a marriage license, you need to provide key documents such as a photo ID and your birth certificate. Depending on your state, you may be able to apply for marriage online or you may have to do it in person. Once a marriage license is issued to you, it lasts anywhere from 30 days to one year, depending on your state.
After you get married, you need to get your marriage certificate. This is similar to a birth certificate, except it displays the date and location of your marriage. You, your partner, and the person officiating your wedding have to sign the marriage certificate. When the bride goes to change her name, she will need to provide the marriage certificate as a legal document that confirms the marriage took place.
Can You Get a Copy of Your Marriage Certificate?
In some cases, you won’t need your actual marriage certificate, you’ll just need a copy of it. And when we say copy, not just a copy you made yourself – an official one from your county or state.
You should always be able to get an official copy of your marriage certificate. The cost to do so will depend on where you live. To get a copy of your marriage certificate, you will need to provide documentation such as a copy of your driver’s license and the reasoning why you need the license.
How Long Does It Take to Get the Copy?
The exact time it takes to get a copy of your marriage certificate boils down to where you live. Some states and counties have websites set up where you can request a copy. Other counties and states may require you to mail in a request for a copy.
In general, it will take between two to four weeks to get a copy of your marriage certificate. Therefore, if you know you will need an official copy of your marriage certificate for some reason, you should plan accordingly.
Do All States Require a Marriage License?
No, not all states do not require a marriage license, so the answer to what happens if a marriage license is never turned in could be ‘nothing.’ So, if you’re reading this and don’t remember ever getting a marriage license, there’s a chance that you could live in one of those states.
For example, in 2019, Alabama made it so that couples wanting to marry did not need to get a marriage license. Instead, they just have to obtain a marriage certificate from the county.
Marriage Licenses: Do You Need Them for a Divorce?
Hopefully, you won’t run into this situation, but no, you do not need a marriage license to get a divorce. You only need a marriage license to get married. However, you will need to have your marriage certificate if you get divorced, so it’s always a good idea to hold on to it since you don’t know what the future holds.
Remember to Turn in Your Marriage License, but Don’t Freak Out if You Forget to
Whether you or your pastor turns in the marriage license, don’t freak out if for some reason it doesn’t happen. Simply inquire with your state or county and see how you can get a replacement. If you never turn in your marriage license, that’s another story. You may or may not be married, depending on how your jurisdiction interprets the marriage. The best practice is to make sure the marriage license is turned in and that you get your marriage certificate as soon as possible.
Cynthia Pate is a passionate writer and wedding enthusiast, dedicated to helping couples create their dream celebrations. With years of experience in the wedding industry, Cynthia has developed a deep understanding of the latest trends, timeless traditions, and unique ideas that make every wedding special. Her articles cover a wide range of topics, from planning and decor to etiquette and fashion, always with the goal of providing practical advice and inspiring ideas. When she’s not writing about all things wedding-related, Cynthia enjoys exploring new destinations, trying out local cuisines, and spending time with her family and friends.