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How do you Find Marriage Records?

Marriage is a binding legal contract between two people, and records relating to marriage are documents kept by the government or local authorities as proof that a marriage has occurred. Marriage records serve as legal and official evidence of the marital union. In the US, the state has sole responsibility for making laws and regulations regarding the recording of a marriage, and these vary from state to state.

Marriage records are classified as vital records. Vital records include major life events such as marriage, divorce, death, and birth. The records are accumulated over a long period and kept in the archives of the state's vital records office. The Vital Records Office is the agency responsible for keeping such records and providing the public with access.

How to Find Marriage Records

Interested parties can obtain marriage records online, at the state vital records office, and through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the past, the two central bodies that kept official marriage records were religious bodies such as churches and the state's offices for vital records or their equivalent in each state. Today, information relating to marriage between two people is publicly registered and accessible.

The state office for vital records, or the state equivalent, provides access to marriage license records and issues official and certified copies of marriage documents to persons authorized by law to obtain them. However, parties should note that some state vital records offices, such as the Minnesota Office of Vital Records, do not record marriages.

Parties may view free marriage records on the official state website for marriage index or records of various states. Although marriage records are available to most public members, the court or office may limit information to the couple's names, place, date of marriage, types of document available in the record, and reference number for the file.

The CDC may provide information on marriages that occurred abroad. To find marriage records of US citizens that occurred outside of the US, requesters may send a request to the following address:

Department of State
Passport Vital Records Section
44132 Mercure Cir.
P.O. Box 1213
Sterling, VA 20166-1213

Are Marriage Records Public?

Anyone who has a basic knowledge of the county, date, and names of the couple may view marriage records. However, certified marriage records are not always considered public records. Certain US states maintain that persons requesting marriage records may only get a marriage certificate if they are previously authorized or party to a marriage. Authorized persons include the married couple, their parent, grandparent or legal guardian, child, grandchild, sibling, or domestic partner. The attorney that represents the married couple is also considered authorized. A non-authorized person may only receive a certified informational copy marked.

On the other hand, some state governments do not limit who can access marriage records. They are accessible to anyone who can provide enough information for the marriage license search and make payment of the proper fee.

What are the Types of Marriage Records?

Marriage records may provide information on the marriage ceremony and the names of the couple. The two officially relevant marriage records are the marriage license and the marriage certificate. Most searches for marriage records are usually conducted to obtain one of these two documents, most especially the marriage certificate. While both documents are vital records, they serve different purposes:

  • Marriage License: The official document issued by the appropriate local authority, usually the county clerk's office, confirming two people are legally qualified and allowed to marry. The Marriage license is obtained before the marriage ceremony itself.

  • Marriage certificate: The certified vital record issued by the state as proof of marriage. Usually, after the wedding ceremony, the couple and their witnesses are required to sign the marriage license as proof that a marriage ceremony was conducted in the presence of witnesses. The officiant then files the signed marriage license at the county clerk's office, who registers it and mails the official marriage certificate to the couple.

What are Marriage Records Used For?

A certified marriage certificate is required for legal name changes. Suppose a party was recently married and wishes to change their last name to their marital name on their identification cards, social security card, and tax and bank documents. In that case, they must obtain a certified marriage record. A certified marriage license is also needed as legal proof of marriage. For the government to recognize a marriage as legitimate, parties must present a marriage certificate. This is especially important for matters such as filing for loans, purchasing property, and filing taxes.

A certified marriage certificate is one of the most important documents when filing immigration papers. When applying for a marriage green card with the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the document is necessary. Certified marriage records are also required when applying for Letters of Administration, which are documents that grant individuals rights to the property of deceased spouses.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage

To perform a name change after marriage in the United States, the first step is to obtain a marriage certificate or court order. Next, parties must inform the Social Security Administration of the change and the US Department of State. To finalize a name change, it is necessary to apply for an updated driver's license or state-issued identification with the new name. Parties should also inform all other relevant agencies, such as their place of work, financial institutions, and utility providers.

It is typically advised that newlyweds who intend to change their name after marriage seek out information regarding the process. Additionally, parties may hire an attorney to aid in the process.

What is the Cost of Marriage Records?

The cost of obtaining a marriage record varies from one location to the other. Fees associated with obtaining the record online are usually displayed after a party requests the document. Some online platforms may also require registration or a subscription fee and then offer certain information for free. For states with centralized marriage records and statics departments or organizations, the cost of procuring a certificate or other marriage records may be determined by contacting the vital records office. Typically, the most expensive part of a marriage records request is the certified copy of the marriage certificate. Any additional copies are cheaper in cost.

What Information is Required to Obtain Marriage Records?

Providing all or some of the following information may foster easier location and access for the applicant as well as the record keeper or the online public record service provider:

  • Full name of wife and husband
  • Wife's maiden name
  • Date of marriage
  • County the marriage license was issued
  • Name of applicant and mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Applicant signature

Some states require the applicants to fill request forms and pay necessary charges to obtain marriage records online. The applicant may be required to fill essential fields requesting information that would aid in finding the specific records sought.

Why are Marriage Records Important?

  1. Compliance to Law: Maintenance of marriage records complies with local statutes. Each state in the US has a family law or code requiring the registration of vital records and provides the legal process for obtaining a marriage license and filing a marriage certificate. The States are also obligated under their public access to information laws to provide access to the vital records so kept.

  2. Statistical information: In many states, vital records, including marriage records, are filed with the State office of vital statistics and used by many organizations, including governmental organizations, religious bodies, economic consulting firms, and businesses, as valuable data in statistical research and analysis of trends in the society. The state and individuals can use records to analyze population growth or decline, the pattern of living, stability of family life, market forecasts, and more.

  3. Marriage records confirm the validity of marriage documents (license and certificate) presented as proof of marriage with any formal institution or private entity. The stamp and signatures of the authorized persons at the office of vital statistics and the local issuing authority confirm that the document is legitimate.