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Getting married is actually not as complex as I thought it would be. Changing your name is very inconvenient, but it’s really easy to get a legal marriage in the state of California.

First, get your marriage license. Then, have the ceremony. Then, just make sure someone returns the marriage license to the clerk (usually your officiant/pastor takes care of this). One week later, you can order a certified copy of your license (sometimes you can order one ahead of time). That’s what you can use to change your name (if you’re doing that).

How to get a marriage license

You have to show up in person, together, to get your license. You have to bring your ID (driver’s license or passport). If you’ve been married before, you have to bring proof that other person died or you dissolved the marriage somehow. A few counties require birth certificates. You’ll also need to know your parents’ names (including mom’s maiden name), and where they were born.

Where to go

You will usually need to get your license in the same state where you’ll get married. Otherwise, you can go to any County Clerk in that state. Some offices require an appointment, so just check before you head out.

When to Get Your Marriage License

You’ll need your marriage license before your wedding. In California, you can go in and get your license up to 90 days ahead of time. There is no waiting period, so you can get married immediately after getting your marriage license if you want.

How to Have a Legal Wedding Ceremony

You can get married at the courthouse with a judge or justice of the peace right after you pick up your marriage license. This does require an appointment and a small fee ($35 last I checked). You can also be married by a priest, pastor, rabbi, or authorized persons of any religious denomination; judges, magistrates, current Members of Congress, California Constitutional Officers and State Legislators; and some local elected officials. Officiant must be at least 18 years old.

A friend can also officiate by getting ordained online. This requires some notice, but it’s not hard to do at all. Universal Life Church is a very common one. I’m an ordained officiant, as well.

Your officiant is responsible for walking you through your vows (however that looks), filling out and signing a portion of the marriage license, and returning it to the county clerk’s office. You do not sign or fill anything out at this point (everything will have been filled out when you picked up your license). You or your officiant has to return your license to the clerk within 10 days.

Do I Need Witnesses for a Wedding in California?

No, as long as you get a “Confidential Marriage License.” A regular wedding license requires one witness.

How to Get a Copy of My Marriage License

Most counties allow you to order a copy of your marriage license online. That’s the best/easiest way. You can also get one in person (same-day, typically), or call. There’s also a way to probably mail in the verification you’d need to get one through the mail, but that’s an ancient way of doing it.

That’s it! You’re legally married and have proof!

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I love marriage. I think marriage is valuable, regardless of how the wedding has to happen. Simple or complex, the wedding doesn’t matter as much as the two people entering into the marriage together. Which is one reason I was so excited when Quique and Sahana asked me to photograph their Covid-19 elopement at the Honda Center. Because this will be a day and a time we will tell our kids about. And when there are photos, it’s so much more of a story.

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Inside an artist’s chest there beats two hearts. One is weak and ugly. It is necessary, the pessimist, the one who critiques, talks finances, and picks out all the little details that aren’t correct. The other one is colorful, vibrant, relishes the colors of the sunset, and imagines up the most beautiful creations. It never thinks about something as trivial as money or food. Those things just don’t matter compared to the soul-filling joy of CREATING.

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Originally, these two were going to have an all-out wedding later in the year, but couldn’t wait. So they had an intimate wedding a few weeks ago. It’s been on my photographer’s bucket list to photograph a small mountain wedding. It was simple, easy, and beautiful!! They got married at a courthouse in Boise, then met me at the Capitol building for a few romantic shots. Then we all caravaned up to the parents’ cabin in the mountains for a reception with their friends and family. 

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