Wedding2point0: When to sign the marriage license

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When do you sign the Marriage License?

The important point about the marriage license, is that whenever you sign the license, that is your legal wedding time and date. The wedding ceremony can be held at the same time, as is usual, or before or after the legal signing. Remember Charles and Camilla's wedding: They went to the registry office and signed the marriage license with a few witnesses (that was their legal wedding). Then Camilla change clothes and they went to the Cathedral for their "Wedding Blessing". It could have easily happened on separate days.

We have had cases where the couple wanted their legal wedding to be a different date or time (for sentimental reasons, perhaps their first anniversary date, or because an astrologer picked a better date for a propitious wedding, or because it was their parents or grandparents wedding anniversary) or -- because they need a legal marriage license filed earlier for healthcare or travel documents, or other legal reasons.

So I have gone to couple's homes with their witnesses and signed the license at various dates before or after the family/church wedding ceremony. Just be sure that your officiant is careful to comply with the laws in your state or country - some places have waiting periods - most common is 24 hours to the MINUTE after the license was issued -- before it can be legally signed. 

Note that some states have a waiting period between the application for the license and when it is received and can be used. Wisconsin and Minnesota require a 5 day waiting period before the license is issued, but then it can be used immediately. 

Whatever the waiting period is, ONCE THE LICENSE IS SIGNED BY THE COUPLE AND THE WITNESSES AND THE OFFICIANT, that is your LEGAL wedding date and time, as compared to your CEREMONY date and time, which may be different, according to your wishes.

If you don't want to see each other before the wedding, you can ask your officiant to go back and forth between the bride and groom and witnesses and have each fill out the license separately, so the couple do not see each other. The license is not legal until the officiant signs and dates it, so you should leave the time and date blank until the wedding is finished. 

But it is technically possible to have the license signed by everyone but the officiant before the ceremony.  I don't recommend this method, in general.  It is easy to fill out the name and addresses of the witnesses, where required, before the ceremony, and then all you need are quick legal signatures afterwards.  However, In SOME states (and counties) the bride and groom do not even need to sign, as they have done so when they received the license.  So all you need are the witnesses signatures and the officiant's signature.

Some cultures (esp Jewish) sign the license and the ketubah before the ceremony. Some cultures (Quaker) include the signing of the license and a larger marriage certificate at the end of the ceremony, and then ask all the guests to sign the certificate at the reception.

To incorporate a signing into the ceremony, we often follow the vows and the rings and the kiss with the official signing, and say: "to comply with the laws of _______ state, we will now ask the bride and groom and their witnesses (which can be best man/maid of honor OR siblings, or two moms, or two best friends, etc.) to come forward", and we each sign. This is very quick, if we have filled out the license before.

The MOST common signing is during the cocktail hour. The couple leave the wedding location, the witnesses and the officiant follow them (often after leaving them alone for the traditional 18 minutes, or 9x2 in the Jewish tradition), and we all sign in a calm atmosphere before the couple re-enters the reception. The best man often presents them, and says "and now, for the first time as a LEGALLY married couple, we welcome x and x, husband and wife ...."

Here are marriage license regulations, state by state, on marriage licenses.

Here is a chart on state regulations about the  marriage license waiting period and blood test, age requirements, and other regulations.

This article by Mary Beaty, Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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