Types of Marriage Licences

Updated March 23, 2017

There are different types of marriage licenses. Each type binds a couple together legally. Some marriage licenses are public, and others are private or confidential. There are even licenses for those who do not formally exchange vows, but whom the law looks upon as married anyway.

Marriage License

A marriage license is a legal document that gives a couple the authorisation to be married. A license can be issued by a member of the clergy (church), or a government official. Those who have a marriage ceremony are not legally married unless they previously obtained a marriage license. A marriage license is needed to make one’s union official in the eyes of the law.

Public Marriage License

A public marriage license is a legal license stating a couple has been wed. You may use a public marriage license in any county, as long as it’s in the same state where you obtained it. This license can be proven, and an individual, other than the wed couple, may be able to access it. There are government sites, as well as other paid search services that one can use to obtain a copy of a public marriage license. An individual must be at least 18 years of age to obtain a marriage license. There must be at least one witness present at the ceremony. In some states two witnesses are required.

Private/Confidential Marriage License

A private or confidential license must be purchased by adults aged 18 or older. With a confidential license, the couple wishing to be married must reside in the same home. Proof, such as an affidavit must be signed attesting this fact, must be furnished. This type of marriage license does not require a witness be present at the ceremony, or to sign the marriage license like a public marriage license. The records of a confidential marriage license may not be purchased or obtained by a state office for anyone other than the married couple. If there is a legal issue, or the court orders a confidential marriage license to be presented, then the clerk of court can release a copy, but for no other reason.

Common Law & Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Common law marriage certificates are not valid in all states and countries. In fact, only a few states and countries still honour common law. These couples have lived together as husband and wife, but have not made the marriage legal. The courts will need documentation of this, but no official license is given. Some states allow same sex marriage licenses, but majority have a ban on the marriage license. This allows couples of the same sex to have file for a marriage license, and have a ceremony performed to legalise their marriage like any other heterosexual couple.

Validating Marriage Licenses

No matter what type of marriage license a couple has, it means nothing when trying to prove a couple has been married. The license is needed to legalise the union, but a ceremony of some type still needs to take place. A judge, an authorised member of the clergy or state authorised official of some type needs to “marry” the couple, and then they sign the marriage license making it official. Whether public, confidential or common-law, the couple must have a marriage ceremony of some type. If the couple does not exchange vows and make the marriage official within a certain time frame, the marriage license will become invalid, and the couple will have to file for a new one.

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About the Author

Taunda Edwards began writing in 1997 and received her bachelor's degree in secondary education from Miami University of Ohio in 2004. In 2005 she pursued her writing career on a full-time basis. Her first novel was published by T.A.D.D. Writes publications. She was a 2006 "Moviemaker Magazine" feature.