How to Get a Confidential Marriage License in California

In California, couples have two options for a marriage license. Here’s what you need to know about a confidential marriage license in California.

To get a confidential marriage license in California, participating parties must be living together and willing to sign an affidavit confirming this as factual information. Then, an appointment must be scheduled and paid for either through 1) the online appointment system or 2) in-person, with in-person hours to schedule depending on the location of the county. Upon being issued the confidential marriage license, both parties must present specific documents including a valid authentic legal photo identification card featuring a full legal name, photograph, date of birth, date of issue, and expiration date.

What does it mean to have a confidential marriage license?

Having a confidential marriage license is the first legal step to getting married. Having one essentially means that an individual has applied to be married. There are two types of marriage licenses that can be issued in the state of California. A confidential marriage license must be signed –either during or after the ceremony – and then returned by an officiant to the county for a marriage certificate to be issued.

What is a confidential marriage license?

A marriage license is a legally binding document that is required in order to get married. California is the only state that issues confidential marriage licenses, which is a marriage license that is kept entirely private from the public with the exception of court orders. A marriage license is only a permit to get married. The marriage is not official until a ceremony featuring an authorized person is performed. The confidential marriage license is valid for 90 days from the date it is issued and the ceremony must take place in the State of California.

What is the difference between a confidential and a public marriage license?

In California, there are two types of marriage licenses that couples can be issued – a public marriage license or a confidential marriage license. A public marriage license differs from a confidential marriage license in that it is a public record and requires at least one witness to be present during the ceremony. Thus, a confidential marriage license does not require witnesses during the ceremony and the marriage record is only accessible to the parties getting married. Although both types of marriage licenses are legal in California, certified copies of the confidential marriage license, which as previously stated are only obtainable by the married couple, can primarily be secured through a direct method of ensuring that it is in fact the married couple that is accessing the license.

Steps to Apply for a Confidential Marriage License in CA

1. Make an appointment.

Appointments to apply for a confidential marriage license can be scheduled online. Appointments should be scheduled prior to visiting the County Clerk’s Office, as walk-ins are not always allowed. The times and options for walk-in appointments depend on the county in California. A license fee, with prices ranging by county, can be collected at the time of scheduling if the party prefers to pay online. Only credit card payment is acceptable for online payments.

2. Fill out an application form.

Fill out an online application form for a confidential marriage license. This application includes general information about the parties and has an affidavit section dedicated to ensuring both parties have been living together. Confidential marriage licenses require the signature of both parties getting married. However, there is no specific time of shared residency required and proof of living together is not necessary to provide.

Related: How to Get Married in California

3. Have the necessary documents ready to bring to the County Clerk’s Office.

These documents include a valid and authentic legal photo identification and the completed confidential marriage license application form. In regards to the legal photo I.D., a photograph, full legal name, birth date, date of issue, and expiration date must be featured. Examples of acceptable identification materials include but are not limited to passports, driver’s licenses, naturalization certificates, resident alien cards, and military I.D.s. The couple must provide additional records if one or both of the individuals have been previously married or a State Registered Domestic Partner. Specifically, a certified copy of divorce, termination, annulment, or death record needs to be presented at the time of the marriage license reservation if it ended in the span of the past 90 days of the marriage license reservation date. Finally, the completed application form must be brought to the office.

4. Arrive at the County Clerk’s Office for the confidential marriage license reservation.

It is recommended that parties arrive at their reservation 10 minutes prior to the scheduled appointment time. The parties must pay the marriage license fee if they have not done so online. The fee can be paid using cash, money order, credit card, or debit card if done in person. Both parties must be present in order to file the application and then be issued a marriage license.

FAQs About Confidential Marriage License in CA

Is there an age requirement to obtain a confidential marriage license?

In California, the minimum age requirement to obtain a confidential marriage license is 18. This age requirement remains the same for all marriage licenses in the State of California. For individuals under 18, the written consent from at least one parent or legal guardian and written permission from a judge is required for a public marriage license.

Is a marriage ceremony mandatory to be considered legally married or is a marriage license enough?

In California, the law requires both a marriage license to be purchased and a marriage ceremony to take place in order for a couple to be considered legally married. It is important to note that there is a time limit to have the ceremony once this license is received. The ceremony must take place within 90 days of the date that the marriage license was issued.

Are there differences in obtaining a marriage license if one of the parties is not a U.S. citizen?

In order to obtain a confidential marriage license, there are no differences in requirements between U.S. and non-U.S. citizens. This is the case for both confidential marriage licenses and public marriage licenses in the State of California.

How does one obtain certified copies of a confidential marriage license?

Confidential marriage licenses are private and restricted to the married parties. If the married parties want to get ahold of their confidential marriage license, they can do so by providing proof of identity, a sworn statement, and by paying the cost of a search fee. A sworn statement, acknowledgment by a notary public, a record search fee, and a self-addressed stamped envelope are required if the parties request the license by mail.

Is a birth certificate necessary in the process of getting a confidential marriage license?

A birth certificate is not necessarily needed in the process of getting a confidential marriage license. A birth certificate would only be required if the legal photo I.D. presented did not contain the individual’s full name. An example of this would be a middle initial instead of a full middle name being displayed on the I.D. If this were the case, a birth certificate, passport or social security card that exhibits a full name must be presented.

Is it necessary to schedule a ceremony appointment if a marriage license appointment has already been scheduled?

Yes, ceremony appointments must be scheduled separately from confidential marriage license appointments. Having a marriage license is comparable to having an application to get married – to legally be considered married there must be a ceremony and the marriage license must be signed by an Officiant and then returned to the County Clerk’s Office. However, it is important to note that marriage ceremonies do not have to occur in the same place that the marriage license appointment took place.

Is there a requirement for where a marriage ceremony takes place after obtaining a confidential marriage license?

A marriage ceremony has to take place in the State of California after obtaining a confidential marriage license. It does not matter where in California, as long as it takes place in the state. With a confidential marriage license, witnesses are not required to attend the ceremony. This would not be the case with public marriage licenses, where at least one witness must be present during the ceremony.

Are blood tests mandatory for acquiring a confidential marriage license?

Blood tests are not necessary for acquiring a confidential marriage license. Blood tests were a requirement of the past but were eliminated in January of 1995.

Are couples required to change their names when acquiring a confidential marriage license?

Couples are not required to change their names when acquiring a confidential marriage license. That being said, if the couple does seek to change their names, this must be done at the time of signing the marriage license. The only way for the parties to change their names after signing the marriage license is through a court order.

What middle and last names can parties adopt at the time of application for a marriage license?

Firstly, it is important to note that first names can not be changed through marriage. During the application for a marriage license, each individual has the ability to change their middle name(s), last name(s), or both. This change will be reflected after the solemnization of the marriage. There are limitations on the middle names the parties are able to adopt. The options include the contemporary last name of either spouse, the last name of either spouse supplied at birth, a hyphenated merger of the current middle name and the current last name of the spouse, and finally a hyphenated merger of the current middle name and the last name given at the birth of the spouse. There are also limitations in regards to the potential last names that parties may adopt. The options for last names include 1) the contemporary last name of the other spouse, 2) the last name of either spouse supplied at birth, 3) a name that combines all or a segment of the current last name or last name of either spouse given at birth into a single last name, and 4) a hyphenated merger of the last names.

What needs to be done if there is a mistake on the confidential marriage license?

There are a few options that individuals can choose to do if there is a mistake listed on a confidential marriage license. One option includes making the choice to purchase a brand new marriage license before the ceremony. This involves paying a fee. If the mistake is seen on the license after the ceremony has taken place, individuals can file an amendment for a marriage license. These amendments are processed at the Clerk-Recorder’s Office only and include a fee of $50.

Are witnesses required to go to the ceremony following the acquisition of a confidential marriage license?

Witnesses are not required to attend the ceremony if a confidential marriage license was purchased. Witnesses are only required if the couple purchased a public marriage license. In this case, at least one witness must show up for the ceremony. There is no age requirement for the witness but the witness must be old enough to understand that they are witnessing a marriage ceremony. Additionally, they must be able to sign their name on the official public marriage license confirming this.

Do married couples seeking to renew their vows require a marriage license?

Marriage licenses are not necessary to bring when renewing vows. A ceremony for renewing vows cannot take place at a County Clerk’s Office, as they only host civil marriage ceremonies. Civil marriage ceremonies may only be performed for two unmarried individuals with a valid California marriage license.

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