What Happens if a Marriage License is Never Turned In?

So what happens if a marriage license is never turned in? You should know that a ceremony is not enough for a marriage to be legal. You also need an official process. Usually these are done together.

What Happens if a Marriage License is Never Turned In

The ceremony signifies your commitment to your chosen spouse, but doesn’t make you legally married.

For that, you will need to have a ceremony performed by a licensed officiate and a marriage license which must be signed and registered with the county.

After that you will get your marriage certificate. But let’s say your officiate doesn’t mail in the marriage license for whatever reason, or somehow a step in this process is missed? Does this mean you aren’t legally married? Usually not, but it does depend on the laws of the state.

Why a Marriage License is Necessary

Marriage is a contract between you and another person, rather than simply being an emotional or religious commitment. You need to get, complete and register a marriage license in order to formalize this contract.

The reason behind this is there are legal benefits behind being married. A married couple is entitled to various privileges and rights an unmarried couple is not. A married couple can file their taxes together, for example, which could be financially beneficial.

First Step: Getting a Marriage License

You need to present your legal ID to the county clerk, as well as proof you are old enough to marry or have your parents’ consent, and proof you are divorced, widowed or have not married before, in order to get your marriage license. This license is proof you are legally able to marry.

This license must be signed by you and your spouse, as well as the officiate, and this is the part of the wedding which makes you husband and wife in the eyes of the law. It shows you had the officiate conducting the ceremony in front of at least one witness, and that you both agreed to enter into marriage.

Next Step: Register the Marriage License

Once it is completed, you need to register the marriage license with the state, in order to inform them of your new legally married status. If the license does not get registered, the state will be unaware of your new status and then you can’t get your marriage certificate.

If you don’t get your marriage certificate you won’t be able to do any of these:

  • Change your surname quickly
  • Use your spouse’s health benefits
  • Buy a home together
  • Get immigration benefits via your spouse

You will probably still be considered married even without the certificate. California law, for instance, needs the officiate to return the license to the recorder or county clerk within a 10-day period after the wedding.

Should they not do this for whatever reason, you are still married in the eyes of the law. Accidentally failing to record the marriage license counts as a technical error and doesn’t invalidate a marriage. If you fully believed you were getting married, law says immaterial irregularities such as this would not void your marriage.

The importance of registering a marriage license does depend where you got married. Only the marriage laws and court decisions in that particular state determine whether you are or are not legally married.

Also read: What Happens if You Miss Jury Duty?

What If the Marriage License Expires?

In nearly every state, a marriage license will expire a specific number of days after its issuance by the county recorder.

A California license is valid for 90 days, for instance, while a Wisconsin one is valid for 30 days. Should your license expire before the official ceremony, you have to get a new one.

Can I Check Whether My License was Filed?

There are some counties and states in the USA which send out a certified or informal marriage certificate copy automatically. In other counties and states, California included, you have to request this yourself, trusting your spouse or officiate mailed it and the mail carrier delivered it.

You could also just phone the county clerk and ask them. So, if you got married and had a valid marriage license but it skipped your mind to register it with the county clerk afterwards, the likelihood is that you are legally married. However this does depend on state law.

9 thoughts on “What Happens if a Marriage License is Never Turned In?”

  1. My husband before we were married, was seeking to get a divorce from previous wife. When he went to get a copy of marriage license of previous wife. their was no record of marriage. His previous wife received a no record of marriage also. We are assuming that the papers were never turned in to the state after marriage. Is he still legally married to previous wife. We live in New Jersey

  2. I have our marriage certificate but the pastor never sent it in to the state of Oregon now she has passed away and her family is going after me and our marriage the lawyers at the hospital stopped them and also they did at the funeral home. They have now gone to her land lord of 11 years and had him take it to the cort house after I was handling it but now has given her estate to her oldest daughter. Now she is trying to come after me for signing the papers at both the hospital and funeral home and I took the cash out of her bank acount to pay for it after getting told by her dad to do so I have been trying to handle things and be responsible for it all but there meddling in this is making it very hard on me what recourse or how do I handle this?

  3. Years you legally married when the pastor signed the wrong spot and it was never recorded you didn’t know this 15 yrs later you find he’s married to maybe two but fir certain one lied in court to judge saying he never said I do never attended a wedding ceremony at all
    The home has only his name they went together to get because she couldn’t prove income was advised to come off until after was agreed to add her later but greed took over
    Now this bitter expensive divorce filled with lies and deceit he’s claiming his signature was forged

    How do I tie this all together fit a win and half need to stop sale of home he’s trying to get and run

  4. I can’t find my certified copy and the state of Calif takes forever to find it. But I divorced my spouse in 1983 and it was filed, so that means my marriage had to have been legally registered, right? You can’t get a divorce unless you were actually legally married?

    • did you get any answers? I have a similar dilemna. I have copies of the divorce decree but California Vital Records came back with “No Record Found” for my marriage certificate.

  5. In 1977 I was under the influence of drugs and this guys says we got married at a chapel. Hall of records say they checked 1907. ‘to present. No such record on file. Can I go back to my maiden name.i haven’t seen the guy since the 70s. I’m filing paperwork for legal name change. Is this legal?

  6. My wife and I got married in 2011. We had a big wedding and had the paper work signed by the priest, best man etc..But never sent in the paper work. We are unable to change her last name due to not having a Marriage Certificate. Any one know what we can do to in order to change it?

  7. I got married in 2003, I filed for a marriage license but the minister died befor he signed it. So what do we do about this. Are we legally married or not. It never got registered in the courthouse. At this time we are considering getting a divorce. I don’t know what to do. Help. Mike

  8. My wife and I married and then separated 22 days later. The marriage certificate was not turned into the county. Washington state requires it to be returned within 30 days of the ceremony.

    She is threatening to turn it in out of spite. Is this marriage valid?


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