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.
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.
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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.