Shopping for wedding dresses, picking out flowers, and tasting cake choices may be more fun, but you absolutely cannot overlook this task. Nor can you delegate it to anyone else. The couple shoulders complete responsibility for obtaining the proper license and ensuring it is valid for both their wedding date and in the place where they are solemnizing their marriage.
They do not have to go it alone however. Officiants should know state marriage law concerning the license as well as they know the backs of their hands. I encourage couples to partner with their officiant. Never be afraid to ask questions about the marriage license. It is the very first thing I talk to my couples about when we meet at our initial consultation!
Alas, upon arriving for a wedding, I have been presented with:
- a license that was not valid until two days after the wedding
- a license that had expired and was no longer valid
- a mail away license that was incomplete and had not been signed yet by the Clerk of Courts
- a license from another state that was not valid here in Florida.
Read carefully! Each state is different.
You can obtain a license in any county in Florida and it is valid for a ceremony anywhere else within the state. I believe ceremonies in New Jersey must be performed in the same county or township where the couple got the license (but don't hold me to that, I don't live in New Jersey and haven't officiated a wedding there in at least six years). Florida licenses have a very clear 60 day window in which the ceremony must be held. Licenses in Washington, DC never expire. Florida is extraordinarily lenient concerning who can officiate ceremonies and what can be said during a ceremony. Other states retain tighter control over officiants and have specific requirements that must be included in the ceremony.
Please educate yourselves and know the law. There is almost nothing worse for an officiant than to be handed an invalid license and thus have to break the news to the couple their wedding will not mark the beginning of their lives together as legally recognized spouses. It breaks out heart to have to break yours!