You’re getting married! Congratulations on behalf of all of us at the Inquirer.

Whether you’re eloping to the Jersey Shore, tying the knot at a Philly wedding venue or getting married through a self-uniting marriage officiated by you and your partner (yes, you can do that in Pennsylvania), you have to get a marriage license first.

Once you have a marriage license, you get a specific time period to make it official. But you can’t get legally married without a marriage license.

Here’s what exactly a marriage license is, what it enables you to do, and how to get one in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

What is a marriage license?

A marriage license allows a couple to get legally married. This license is issued by local governments on behalf of the state you’re getting married in and are kept in archives for public record and to verify that a marriage is official.

You can only use a marriage license in the state it’s issued. If you’re a Pennsylvania resident wanting to get married in New Jersey, you have to apply for a marriage license in Jersey — and vice versa.

Does a marriage license mean you are married?

No. A marriage license means that you registered your marriage with the government and now have a certain amount of time to get officially married.

When to get a marriage license

A few weeks out from your official wedding ceremony. Marriage licenses give couples a specific time period to make their marriage official — and these change state by state. So, plan your wedding ceremony with the state’s time period in mind.

  • Pennsylvania: 60 days from when you got your marriage license.

  • New Jersey: 30 days from when you got your marriage license.

How to make a marriage official

Traditionally, you have to get married in the presence of someone who is legally allowed to officiate a wedding — known as an “officiant.” Judges, Justices of Peace, leaders or clergy members of any religion, or someone who is state-certified to officiate a wedding is allowed to marry a couple as an officiant. An officiant cannot marry you as a couple unless you have a marriage license.

The officiant will put their signature on your marriage license once you’re married and a section of the document will be sent back to the Register of Wills office where you applied for the license.

In Pennsylvania, you don’t need an officiant to get married. You can marry yourselves as a couple as long as you have two adult witnesses — it’s called a “self-uniting marriage” and dates back to a Quaker tradition (more on that later).

How long is a marriage license good for?

Pennsylvania: 60 days. New Jersey: 30 days. That’s how long you have to get officially married in each state.After that, you have to apply for a new marriage license.

Is there a waiting period to get married?

Yes. Once you get your marriage license, you have to wait 72 hours until you can get married.

Are marriage licenses public record?

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, marriage licenses are public records. However, only the people named on the marriage license or eligible parties can request a certified copy of a marriage license. For the general public, you only have access to informational versions to verify an official marriage.

What if I was married before?

You have to bring a certified copy of your divorce decree. In Philadelphia, if your spouse from a previous marriage passed away during the marriage, you need to provide a certified copy of their death certificate. In some Pennsylvania counties, you may not need to provide a death certificate.

Do you put a new last name on marriage license?

No. The names on your marriage license will be the names that are listed on the ID that you provide. If you want to change your last name once you’re married, you have to go through the process of legally changing your name with the Social Security Administration and the DMV.

Can I get married if I don’t have U.S. citizenship?

Yes. Marriages between non-citizens in the U.S. are legally binding. Each state has different ID requirements for getting married, so check with your local county office to see what you need.

  • Pennsylvania: You need your birth certificate (officially translated if it’s in a language other than English) or government ID issued by another country.

  • In New Jersey: Only U.S. citizens have to provide a Social Security card. Non-citizens do not need to provide one.

How to get a marriage license in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, getting a marriage license is simple, and even more conveniently you can get married without an officiant.

Where to get a marriage license in Pennsylvania

At a county’s Register of Wills office. In Philadelphia, that’s the Marriage License Center in Room 413 of City Hall — email MLAppt@phila.gov to make an appointment. But you can get a marriage license in any Pennsylvania county and use it throughout the state to get married. Here’s a full list of Register of Wills offices across the state.

You need an appointment to apply for a marriage license. Check with the office where you will be applying at to see how you can make an appointment.

What you need to get a marriage license in Pennsylvania

You need government-issued ID. Accepted IDs include your driver’s license, state ID, international driver’s license, passport (U.S. or foreign), military ID, resident alien card, consulate card.

You also need your Social Security card or an official document showing your full name and Social Security Number, like tax documents. Some counties don’t require proof of your SSN, just the number itself. If you don’t have a Social Security Number — it’s OK — you can use your birth certificate (officially translated if it’s in a language other than English) or government ID issued by another country.

How much is a marriage license?

In Pennsylvania, it will range from $30 to $90 for a marriage license. In Philadelphia, it’s $90 — but you can go to another county to get a cheaper marriage license and use it anywhere in the state.

How long does it takes to get a marriage license?

In Pennsylvania, you should get your marriage license the same day you apply. But you have to wait 72 hours before you can use it.

Can you get a marriage license online?

Not in Philadelphia. You and your spouse have to apply together in-person. In some counties, though, you can apply for a marriage license virtually.

What do I do now that I have a marriage license?

Your marriage certificate comes in three sections.

  • Top section: Stays with officiant who married you for their records.

  • Middle section: Stays with you for a keepsake (it’s not the official marriage certificate).

  • Bottom section (Duplicate license): Send the duplicate back with the officiant’s signature to the Register of Wills. This is what makes your marriage official and legal with the government.

Help make this guide better
See something missing? If you spot an error or omission in any of our guides, please let us know by emailing us at phillytips@inquirer.com

Self-uniting marriage license in Pennsylvania

Due to a Quaker tradition that dates back to 1681, Pennsylvania couples can legally marry themselves without an officiant in what is called a “self-uniting marriage.”

How to get a self-uniting license

The process for getting a self-uniting license in Pennsylvania is very similar to the process for getting a traditional marriage license.

You’ll go through the same process of getting a marriage license: You need the same ID documents, need to visit a local Register of Wills in-person, and you have to send back a signed copy of your marriage license after the wedding.

The only differences is you have to request a self-uniting marriage license and you have to pay an extra $10.

  • Once you’re given your marriage license, you and your spouse can marry yourselves in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18-years-old.

  • Have those two witnesses sign the bottom section of the marriage license (where an officiant would sign on a traditional marriage license) and send the duplicate back to the local Register of Wills where you applied.

How to get a marriage license in New Jersey

Getting a marriage license in New Jersey is pretty simple as long as you have the required documents.

Where to get a marriage license in New Jersey

In New Jersey, you get your marriage license at a county’s Office of Vital Records. You can find the location nearest you on the Office of Vital Records website. You need an appointment to apply for a marriage license at an Office of Vital Records. Check with the office where you will be applying at to see how you can make an appointment.

What you need to get a marriage license in New Jersey

You have to provide government-issued ID. Accepted IDs include a driver’s license, passport (U.S. or foreign), state and federal ID.

You also have to prove you live in New Jersey. Accepted documents include utility bill, rental agreement, or property deed.

  • If you don’t live in New Jersey but are getting married somewhere in the state, you have to go to the county office in the area where you will be getting married to apply.

You have to provide your Social Security card if you’re a U.S. citizen. If you’re not a U.S. citizen — it’s okay — they won’t require you to provide a Social Security card.

You have to bring an adult witness. Grab a friend or family member to come with you and bear witness to your application for a marriage license. They need a government-issued ID that includes their address.

Any documents in a language other than English have to be accompanied by a certified English translation.

How much is a marriage license in New Jersey?

A marriage license is $28 in the state. However, if Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed 2023 budget is approved this fee will be waved from July 1, 2022, through June 2023.

How long does it take to get a marriage license?

Three to five days. There is a 72-hour waiting period until you can get your marriage license. You can arrange to pick-up your marriage license with the Office of Vital Records where you applied.

Can you get a marriage license online?

No. You have to apply in-person.

What do I do now that I have a marriage license?

  • Your marriage license comes with four copies. You and the wedding officiant will sign all four copies of the marriage license.

  • After the wedding ceremony, you or the officiant will send two signed copies of the marriage license back to the local Office of Vital Records where you applied.

  • The other two copies will remain with you and the wedding officiant as keepsakes. This is not your official marriage certificate, that will come later after you’ve sent in the signed marriage license to the Office of Vital Records to confirm you were officially married.

Expert sources

  • Register Tracey Gordon, Philadelphia Register of Wills
  • John Zimmerman, Communications Director, Philadelphia Register of Wills
  • Nancy Kearney, Deputy Director of Communications, New Jersey Department of Health
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