If you and your beloved are getting ready to be married – congratulations! When beginning to plan your wedding and your future, you might be so excited that you just want to ride off into the sunset together right away.
But there are some practical matters to consider in order to make it legal. One of those is the process of obtaining your marriage license and completing the steps to finalize your marriage certificate.
You may also find some of these marriage notary kits on Amazon useful.
What You'll Learn...
- 1 What is a Marriage License?
- 2 What is a Marriage Certificate?
- 3 What is the Process of Certifying the Marriage License to Create a Marriage Certificate?
- 4 Can a Notary Certify a Copy of a Marriage Certificate?
- 5 When Is A Notary Needed?
- 6 New Marriage Laws In Alabama
- 7 Where Can I Find A Notary?
- 8 How To Notarize A Marriage Certificate?
- 9 Advice for Notaries
- 10 Final Thoughts
What is a Marriage License?
Every state in the United States (except Alabama) requires engaged couples to obtain a marriage license first before getting married. You will need to appear at your County Clerk’s office – usually together – and fill out the required paperwork in order to receive your marriage license.
You are basically submitting an application to determine your eligibility for marriage and to be able to get married.
But simply receiving this document is not enough to declare you officially married in the eyes of the state. Think of your marriage license simply as permission to get married.
You will still need to complete the required steps on your wedding day to officially certify your marriage and convert your license into an official marriage certificate.
If you do not complete these steps, your license will eventually expire, and you will need to start the process over again.
Keep in mind that most states have some sort of waiting period before you can get married after getting your license, so if you’re planning on getting married with a short notice, you will want to check what the waiting period is in your state so you can be sure you get your marriage license in time.
What is a Marriage Certificate?
A marriage certificate is the proof of your new union and the document that makes your marriage legal. You may have also heard this referred to as a “wedding certificate,” but the proper term is “marriage certificate.”
While the marriage license gives you the ability to get married, the marriage certificate is essentially the evidence that your wedding actually took place.
In some states, the certificate is a completely separate document, and in other states, your license and certificate are combined into one paper with the portion that you fill out on your wedding day at the bottom.
Your marriage certificate will then be filed with the appropriate government office where you can then obtain a certified copy.
You will need certified copies of your marriage certificate for many things in your future, including changing your maiden name, filing joint taxes, opening joint bank accounts, applying for a mortgage, and even for immigration purposes if applicable.
What is the Process of Certifying the Marriage License to Create a Marriage Certificate?
After obtaining a marriage license from the County Clerk or applicable agency in your state, you and your spouse will both sign this license on your wedding day, in effect certifying the marriage.
In most states, the officiant will sign it as well. Depending on the state in which you get married, you may also need to have a witness (or 2) validate your signatures.
The next step is sending in your completed document to the appropriate government office – usually the County Clerk. Typically, the officiant will handle this step for you. If you do not have an officiant, you will need to send it in yourself.
Your marriage license becomes officially certified once all the required signatures have been made, and the County Clerk’s office has processed and sealed the document with its official government seal.
After your marriage certificate has been made official, you can then obtain certified copies of it.
Can a Notary Certify a Copy of a Marriage Certificate?
For some types of documents, you can take your original document along with a photocopy, and a notary can mark the photocopy as a certified copy.
However, in general, notaries cannot certify any documents that are considered vital records – that is, birth, death, and marriage certificates. Only the applicable government agency can send you certified copies of vital records.
Some states will automatically mail this to you after your wedding, and others require an in-person visit.
Because of these restrictions, it is a good idea to request several certified copies of your marriage certificate at once you so that you have extras on hand for anything that may require it in the future.
Depending on what you are using your marriage certificate for, some places will keep your certified copy, while others will just need to see it before returning it to you.
When Is A Notary Needed?
As mentioned above, a notary cannot help you obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate. However, in some states, a Notary Public can actually perform all aspects of your wedding ceremony. These states are Nevada, Florida, Maine, and South Carolina.
In other states, a notary can only perform your wedding ceremony if they are also ordained.
Finally, if you are in Alabama, a notary can now actually help you complete your entire marriage certificate without a marriage license or even a ceremony required! Read on for more details.
New Marriage Laws In Alabama
In 2019, the state of Alabama implemented new laws designed to make getting married easier. Couples can now skip the step of obtaining a marriage license and can instead download and print a marriage certificate form here.
Keep in mind, all of the prior requirements for marriage (such as age) are still in place.
But don’t sign it yet! Once the form has been filled out, the couple must then sign it in the presence of a notary and submit it to their county’s Probate Office (along with the required fee) within 30 days.
With this new law, an officiant and wedding ceremony are no longer required, and couples can get married with the assistance of the notary alone.
If you are still having a ceremony, many officiants and minsters are now becoming notaries themselves in order to help couples avoid the extra step of finding one, or you can hire one on your own.
As of now, Alabama is the only state to implement this new procedure, but similar changes may be coming to other states soon.
Where Can I Find A Notary?
If you are in Alabama and need to get your marriage certificate notarized, there are many places where you and your beloved can obtain the services of a notary for a low cost or even for free.
Members of AAA can visit one of their locations to utilize notary services for free. Non-members can still obtain notary services from AAA for a small fee. Most banks and credit unions will usually offer a free notary for account holders as well.
The UPS Store and FedEx Print & Ship Centers, as well as stand-alone stores that offer postal services, also usually employ a notary during at least some of their operating hours.
You’ll want to call ahead or check their website to be sure the notary will be there during the time you wish to visit.
Some other possible places to find a notary include law offices, libraries, pharmacies, universities, and military bases.
As a last resort (or for maximum convenience), you can call a mobile notary who will come to your location and notarize your documents for a small fee.
If you are in one of the states that allow a notary to act as your officiant, the best way to find one near you is by searching for “wedding notary [your zip code].”
These will most likely be mobile notaries vs. the notary you would find at your bank or postal store.
The fee for this type of notary service will be higher as well – typically around $75. This can be a convenient, fast, and cheap way to get married.
How To Notarize A Marriage Certificate?
If you’ve never had to do it before, obtaining the services of a notary can sound confusing and overwhelming. But the process of notarization is actually very quick and easy. In fact, it can usually be completed in less than 5 minutes. There are also some handy marriage notary kits available on Amazon.
Notarization simply means that a registered Notary Public has verified the authenticity of a legal document as well as the identification of the parties signing it, and overseen the proper execution of the contract
First, your notary will look over the documentation you need notarized. Then, they will request to see your identification. They will witness as you sign the document (in this case, the marriage license), and then they will complete their portion of the document.
Finally, they will stamp your document with their notary seal embosser or seal stamp.
Depending on your state’s laws, your marriage certificate may or may not still need a witness signature in addition to the signature of the notary.
Advice for Notaries
Are you a notary in Alabama wondering how to notarize a marriage certificate? Under the new law, you can now help couples complete their marriage certificate without needing to witness or perform any kind of wedding ceremony.
You will simply need to review the document and oversee the signing of it, just like any other legal document.
If you are a notary in a state that allows you to perform a marriage ceremony, there will be some additional steps beyond just signing and notarizing the marriage certificate.
These states still require a marriage license, so you will need to verify the authenticity and validity of the couple’s license before getting started. Then you will need to actually go through the process of “solemnizing the rites of matrimony.”
This ceremony can be in any form the couple desires as long as both people make a commitment to one another and agree to the marriage.
As the officiant, you will then be responsible for returning the license to the officer who issued it.
In either case, you should complete an entry in your record book, verify each party’s identity, and generally treat this notarization like any other.
We hope this article has cleared up the difference between a marriage license and marriage certificate, when a notary is needed or allowed to finalize the certificate, and how to utilize notary services if applicable. We wish you the best of luck on your upcoming nuptials and happy planning!