One of the most important details of your wedding day is the proper signing of your Marriage License.
(If you need information about how and where to purchase your California Marriage License, see my previous post entitled “5 Tips For Getting Your Marriage License.”)
When you and your beloved purchased your Marriage License, the County Clerk gave specific instructions about what not to do: No strikeouts, erasures, etc. You were also warned that if there any mistakes, a duplicate license will need to be purchased. (And this will slow down the name-change process.)
If you have hired a professional Wedding Officiant – someone who performs ceremonies and signs license every week – you are in good hands. She will know how to make sure the license is signed without error.
But if you have asked a friend or family member to officiate, it’s their responsibility to correctly sign the license. They’re probably going to need some help.
I am not an attorney, and this is not legal advice. If you have a procedural question, you should contact the County Clerk. If you have a legal question, you should contact your attorney.
This information applies to Marriage Licenses purchased in California only. If you are getting married in any other state, you should contact the license issuing agency in that state.
These are my procedures, based on nearly 20 years of experience as a Wedding Officiant.
Instructions From The County Clerk
When the couple goes to the County Clerk’s office and applies for their Marriage License, they sign the license at that time.
The Clerk will carefully instruct them about how and where the witness(es) must sign. Often, the Clerk will give them a handout like these examples:
As you can see, Placer County gives clear examples of alterations that would cause a license to be rejected.
Also, if a duplicate license must be purchased the fee – which ranges from $20 to $69 or more – is supposed to be paid by the person who performed the ceremony. Ouch!
That’s a lot of “don’ts” and for an inexperienced “officiant” the proper signing of the Marriage License can be a nerve-wracking experience.
(And, quite frankly, this is often the most challenging part of my job as a professional.)
How To Sign The Marriage License
Here are the steps I take to make sure the Marriage License is properly signed.
1. I get the Marriage License from the couple at rehearsal. This way, it won’t get lost or forgotten during the excitement of the wedding day.
(And since they signed the license when they purchased it, they don’t need to sign anything else.)
2. I tell the witnesses at rehearsal that I will be asking them to sign the Marriage License, and that I will tell them what they need to do.
I also ask them not to drink alcohol before the license is signed. In my experience this reduces the chance for error.
(Note: A Public Marriage License requires one but no more than two witnesses. For ease of reference, this post assumes there will be two witnesses.)
Where The Witnesses Sign the Marriage License
3. On wedding day, I take the witnesses to a clean and quiet spot (no guests, no kids, no distractions).
4. I first have them sign a Keepsake Marriage Certificate. This lets them “practice their signature” and calms their nerves a little. And it also gives me a chance to see how large or small their signature is.
5. I then have each witness sign the Marriage License.
I literally point to Box 26A and ask the first witness to “sign within the box.” (And he or she does so.)
Pointing to Box 27A, I then tell the second witness “You are going to skip a line, and in Box 27A you are going to sign within the box.” (And he or she does so.)
6. I place the Marriage License in my binder to keep it clean.
7. I then pull out this sheet . . .
. . . and write down the name and address for each witness. (I write it so that it’s legible for me.)
I ask each witness to review what I’ve written, to confirm that I’ve spelled their name and address correctly.
8. And then I thank them and tell them to go enjoy the party!
(Occasionally the couple gives me the witnesses’ names and addresses in advance. In that case, I print out the info and ask the witnesses to confirm the spelling.)
Where The Officiant Signs the Marriage License
9. When I get home, I make a photocopy of the signed Marriage License and I print the witnesses’ names (Box 26B and Box 27B) and addresses (Box 26C and Box 27C).
I also fill in the date (mm/dd/yyyy), city and county (Boxes 28A through 28C) and my information as the “Person Solemnizing Marriage” in Boxes 29A through 29E.
I do all this on the photocopy of the Marriage License, and this will be my file copy.
10. I then complete the original Marriage License in the very same way.
Whoo hoo! Almost done!
The Officiant Files the Marriage License
If a couple has purchased their Marriage License in Sacramento County, I will hand-file the original.
If the Marriage License was issued by any other county in the State of California, I return the original by Priority Mail. (This gives me tracking information, so I can confirm that it was delivered to the Clerk.)
And once the Clerk receives and registers the original Marriage License, the couple can purchase a Certified Copy and begin the name-change process.
This may seem like a lot of steps, but this process has helped me successfully sign and file Marriage Licenses, issued from counties all over the State of California, for two decades without error.
I hope this information has been helpful. You can also check out a video version of these steps on my YouTube channel at “How To Sign A California Marriage License.”
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.