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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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Janika and Kenny wanted to get married in a beautiful place, simply. So they contacted me with the dates they’d be in Southern California and we set a date together. We met in downtown Venice Beach and Liz Babinski, an amazing officiant, met us there! We also met with JohnMark, one of our amazing partner videographers! Then we wandered around for awhile, explored the Venice Canals, then regrouped at Venice Beach for the ceremony. It was simple and beautiful.

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I love helping plan surprise proposals in Yosemite National Park. Jackson contacted me about it months before, and we set up a plan. Originally, we were going to meet at Glacier Point at sunrise. I was going to be photographing my dog or my husband and just happen to turn my camera at the right moment. Unfortunately, Glacier closed early that year due to weather. I was on my way up there and we agreed to meet at Tunnel View instead. He sent me photos of the two of them so I could recognize them. I advised them on and out-of-the-way spot we could get away from the crowds. On the day of, it was going past their time and I didn’t see them. So I went down to the main area to find them. Jackson instantly recognized me and “happened” to ask about an “out-of-the-way, secluded spot” where they could watch the sunrise. So, still pretending to be a random person, I offered to take them up to my favorite spot. While we clambered over spots, I asked if I could take their photo. When we got to the spot, I set it up so she turned away, then when she turned back around, Jackson was down on one knee. She was so surprised!!

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Steven and Vanessa originally booked me for Los Angeles wedding photography and videography back in 2019, for fall 2020 backyard wedding photography. She was one of my first weddings booked when we moved to Los Angeles. I was so excited because they were such a beautiful couple. We did engagement photos together, and they were so sweet, romantic, and easy to shoot.

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I was in a sleepy haze as I drove down the deserted highway. It was the pre-dawn quiet of a city that doesn’t wake up until it’s time to go to work. I gathered together my backpack of gear. For intimate sunrise elopement at El Matador Beach, I typically carry a prime 35mm, some OCF, a trigger, a stand, and a long lens, along with my trusty, beautiful Canon 5D Mark III.

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Elizabeth and Robb’s plan had to change slightly when Covid shut everything down. I’m so happy they still decided to prioritize photos, though. I was still able to be their Santa Monica wedding photographer. They cut down their guest list significantly, changed their venue, and ended up getting married at Tongva Park in Santa Monica. The park is a well-kept secret, something you pass often without realizing it’s even a park. It’s just steps away from the Santa Monica Pier. But it wasn’t crowded and we had one of those amazing, golden sunsets.

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