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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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When these two decided to get married, they had a choice: spend a huge chunk of money on a traditional wedding, or put that money towards home improvements and have a smaller backyard wedding. Especially when Covid hit, their decision was made for them. But look!!! Needless to say, they made the right decision. If you’ve followed my work for any period of time, you know that backyard wedding photography is near and dear to my heart. I love the simplicity of a smaller wedding (having had one myself). I love photographing them, especially. That’s the only thing I regret skimping on for my own backyard wedding, and I love that these two took the time and planned for good backyard wedding photography.

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C contacted me on FaceBook a little while ago asking if I’d be up for a short-notice mini, backyard wedding in Santa Clarita. I have a huge soft spot for backyard weddings, I had one myself. And C’s sweet conversation convinced me this would be a wedding of dreams. C and E loved each other so much. It was obvious from the first moment. I peeked into C’s getting ready room and found E had slipped a note under her door, saying that he loved her to infinity. These little moments are reasons I love photographing backyard weddings. When the production is stripped away, you get to the bare-bones love of the day. The entire family pitched in, decorated the whole house, and invited me to sit down for delicious food. It was amazing perfection.

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Quite awhile ago, Liba and Sasha contacted me about doing photography for their grand Los Angeles wedding. Then, 2020 hit, and nobody was sure what to do. These two decided to get married anyway, and needless to say, it was a good choice. I loved photographing for their backyard microwedding. I’m so proud they decided to get married anyway. Maybe that’s a weird response, but I’m a huge fan of love, and finding your spouse, and marrying them, regardless of how much money you have. That’s one reason I love offering affordable wedding packages and alternatives.

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I did a total DIY wedding. My husband and I were headed overseas right after getting married, and neither of us wanted to spend a ton of money right before a trip when we were buying a one-way ticket. So here are a few ways I really cut costs and if I’d recommend it or not.

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Creating a wedding day timeline can be intimidating! This is my method for walking brides through creating a timeline! All you need to know, to start off, is the ceremony time. Then, I walk you through figuring out the rest.

FYI, most vendors want a rough timeline ASAP, but I always check back with a bride/groom closer to the wedding day. It’s normal for timelines to shift as little things get adjusted. Do not worry if you find out you’ll need to adjust the wedding timeline a little!

This is a downloadable PDF. Feel free to download, print, scribble on it, share this page, etc. I only ask that you direct people to this website, and not send your downloaded copy around. That way, it makes it easier for others to find it, as well.


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Happy bride mountain elopement photography wedding photography los angeles
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So, you want to elope, but don’t know how your family will react? Here’s a little advice from someone who has seen a LOT of weddings. As a Los Angeles wedding photographer, I get involved very early on in the process. And I totally understand the thought of “I want to elope.” I’ve seen the planning process and the stress of traditional, big weddings. I have had my own relatively simple traditional wedding. And I’ve photographed quite a few elopements. If you want to elope, go for it! Here are some tips for breaking it to family/friends. The photos scattered throughout this post link to real elopements I’ve photographed recently. Hopefully this article comforts your soul and helps in your journey.

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I loved doing wedding photography for this couple. Rachel is a gorgeous person, inside and out, and Dominic is handsome. They both love each other so much, and it shows in the looks they give each other. I got to do their engagement photos at Multnomah Falls, and it was so fun to be able to do their wedding photography as well. It was also a special day because I got to photograph with my Mom, Sara, who originally inspired my love of art. The two got married at Floral Hall in Everett, Washington. The venue had a getting ready room, a beautiful ceremony/reception space, and the couple brought in a mobile bar for drinks. The commercial kitchen was a beautiful space for all of the family who came together to prepare reception food. The bride made her own cake, and everything turned out so beautifully!! 

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When I first met Payton and Angela, I was impressed immediately. Payton had a huge gash across the side of her face and one on her elbow to match. She had crashed on her skateboard. Awweeeessssoooommmmmeeeee. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not a girly girl, even as a Los Angeles wedding photographer. I think it helps me focus on my art. And brides who are real will always be at the top of my favorites list. Payton and Joe had their first look in the rose garden at Lakeview Park in Nampa. Then, we all trooped over to the Orton home, where I got to photograph their beautiful backyard wedding. 

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