How to Make a Marriage Official

By Dennis Masino

Marriage ceremonies end with the person officiating proclaiming the bride and groom to be husband and wife. However, if the person who performed the ceremony fails to send the proper paperwork to the local government clerk’s office, the marriage is not official and won't become so until the paperwork has been properly executed and filed.


Rules concerning marriage are established by the laws of each state, but marriage licenses are issued by local county clerks. In some states, the marriage ceremony can only be performed in the county where the license was issued, but in other states, the ceremony can be performed anywhere within the state. Depending on the law, the county clerk gives the prospective bride and groom either a license or a license and marriage certificate.


In general, the ceremony does not have to be of any particular type. The parties are free to do as much or as little as they wish, but it must be presided over by someone authorized to do so by state law. The other restriction is that it be held before the marriage license expires, which is usually 60 days from the date it was issued.

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Each state determines who may preside at marriage ceremonies within its borders. Generally, members of the clergy, active and retired judges, and certain public officials, such as mayors, are authorized to preside at the ceremony. Special temporary authorization licenses can be obtain for an officiant who is not a resident of the state in which the ceremony is to be performed.


The person presiding at the marriage ceremony is responsible for filling in the date, time and location of the ceremony on the marriage license or certificate, depending on which document the county clerk wants returned. The person must also add the names of the witnesses to the ceremony. Most states require at least two witnesses. Some states require these witnesses to also sign the license or certificate. Once completed, the document is returned for filing in the office of the county clerk that issued it. The marriage is official only when the document is filed.

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