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.