California Wedding Laws
California is one of the only places in the world where the five major climate types occur in such close proximity. The Golden State has snow capped mountains mere hours from its Mediterranean-like coastline, a hot arid desert on the outskirts of dense wet forests, and jaw-dropping jagged cliffs opposite deep, grass-covered valleys. Because its differing climates appeal to numerous preferences, the state is a popular place to get married.
Whether you plan to get married in California or were asked to officiate a ceremony in its boundaries, it is important that you understand California's marriage and licensing laws. For your convenience, we have gathered all the relevant facts and laws and detailed them in this comprehensive guide.
Getting Married in California
California rarely allows proxy marriages, which occur when one or both parties are not physically present for the union. Rather, it requires that at least both parties, the officiant and one witness be physically present during the unification ceremony and while the couple signs the marriage certificate. While the state does not have an age requirement for witnesses, it does request that they be able to sign their name in the box and understand what they are standing witness for.
In addition to these essential elements, the state has two other requirements for the ceremony. The first is that the couple must consent to the marriage with a proclamation of “I do” from each party. The second is that the minister pronounces the couple as legally married.
The state grants few exceptions to its stance on proxy marriages. The most commonly recognized exception is if one party of the intended union serves in the US Armed Forces and is stationed overseas in a conflict zone. In this case, the intended proxy and stateside fiancé should consult with a legal expert regarding what steps they need to take to ensure the proxy has appropriate power of attorney.
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FAM § 420. (a) No particular form for the ceremony of marriage is required for solemnization of the marriage, but the parties shall declare, in the physical presence of the person solemnizing the marriage and necessary witnesses, that they take each other as spouses.
California Marriage Requirements
California does not have residency requirements for marriage, meaning individuals from out of state or out of country may legally wed within its borders. The only age requirement the state has is that individuals must be 18 years old to marry. However, it does make exceptions for minors with parental consent. If a minor wishes to marry, he or she and a parent must petition to the court, which will review the request and, if approved, issue a court order.
California law recognizes same-sex marriages.
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FAM § 301. Two unmarried persons 18 years of age or older, who are not otherwise disqualified, are capable of consenting to and consummating marriage.
(Amended by Stats. 2014, Ch. 82, Sec. 3. (SB 1306) Effective January 1, 2015.)
FAM § 302. (a) An unmarried person under 18 years of age may be issued a marriage license upon obtaining a court order granting permission to the underage person or persons to marry, in accordance with the requirements described in Section 304.
(b) The court order and written consent of at least one of the parents or the guardian of each underage person shall be filed with the clerk of the court, and a certified copy of the order shall be presented to the county clerk at the time the marriage license is issued.
(Amended by Stats. 2018, Ch. 660, Sec. 3. (SB 273) Effective January 1, 2019.)
FAM § 2200. Marriages between parents and children, ancestors and descendants of every degree, and between siblings of the half as well as the whole blood, and between uncles or aunts and nieces or nephews, are incestuous, and void from the beginning, whether the relationship is legitimate or illegitimate.
(Amended by Stats. 2014, Ch. 82, Sec. 23. (SB 1306) Effective January 1, 2015.)
How to Become a Wedding Officiant in California
The only requirement California law has for ministers who plan to officiate a wedding is that they be at least 18 years old, which also happens to be the same age requirement for ULC credentialing. There is nothing in the law that says a person performing a wedding must have certain beliefs, be of a certain gender or live in a particular area.
Moreover, state law does not require ministers to register online. However, the county clerk will require the name and contact information of the person officiating a wedding. If the clerk has questions or requires additional documentation, they need to know who to reach out to.
The ULC does recommend that officiants get ordained online. Having a copy of one’s ministry credentials on hand could be helpful if any disputes or questions arise.
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FAM § 400. (a) Although marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil, and not a religious, contract, a marriage may be solemnized by a priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination who is 18 years of age or older. A person authorized by this subdivision shall not be required to solemnize a marriage that is contrary to the tenets of the person’s faith. Refusal to solemnize a marriage under this subdivision, either by an individual or by a religious denomination, shall not affect the tax-exempt status of any entity.
Applying For a Marriage License in California
If the parties plan to have the ceremony officiated by an ordained minister of the Universal of Life Church, it is important that they pick up a license for a religious ceremony. This is the case even if the couple does not plan to include specific religious elements in the wedding. Conversely, if the couple plans to get married before a judge, justice of the peace or a similar figure, the parties will need to obtain a license for a civil ceremony.
Once a county clerk issues a marriage license, the parties may marry as soon as they please — even if it is within the hour. However, a California marriage license expires after 90 days. The ceremony must take place within this 90-day window. The couple has 10 days from the date of the ceremony to return the signed license to the county clerk for filing.
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FAM § 356. A marriage license issued pursuant to this part expires 90 days after its issuance. The calendar date of expiration shall be clearly noted on the face of the license.
(Enacted by Stats. 1992, Ch. 162, Sec. 10. Operative January 1, 1994.)
FAM § 357.
(a) The county clerk shall number each marriage license issued and shall transmit at periodic intervals to the county recorder a list or copies of the licenses issued.
(b) Not later than 60 days after the date of issuance, the county recorder shall notify licenseholders whose marriage license has not been returned of that fact and that the marriage license will automatically expire on the date shown on its face.
(c) The county recorder shall notify the licenseholders of the obligation of the person solemnizing their marriage to return the marriage license to the recorder’s office within 10 days after the ceremony.
(Amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816, Sec. 12. Effective January 1, 2007. Operative January 1, 2008, by Sec. 56 of Ch. 816.)
FAM § 359.
(a) Except as provided in Sections 420 and 426, applicants to be married shall first appear together in person before the county clerk to obtain a marriage license.
(b) The contents of the marriage license are provided in Part 1 (commencing with Section 102100) of Division 102 of the Health and Safety Code.
(c) The issued marriage license shall be presented to the person solemnizing the marriage by the parties to be married.
(d) The person solemnizing the marriage shall complete the solemnization sections on the marriage license, and shall cause to be entered on the marriage license the printed name, signature, and mailing address of at least one, and no more than two, witnesses to the marriage ceremony.
(e) The marriage license shall be returned by the person solemnizing the marriage to the county recorder of the county in which the license was issued within 10 days after the ceremony.
(f) As used in this division, “returned” means presented to the appropriate person in person, or postmarked, before the expiration of the specified time period.
(Amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816, Sec. 14. Effective January 1, 2007. Operative January 1, 2008, by Sec. 56 of Ch. 816.)
FAM § 423. (a) The person solemnizing the marriage shall return the marriage license, endorsed as required in Section 422, to the county recorder of the county in which the license was issued within 10 days after the ceremony.
FAM § 422. The person solemnizing a marriage shall sign and print or type upon the marriage license a statement, in the form prescribed by the State Department of Public Health, showing all of the following:
(a) The fact, date (month, day, year), and place (city and county) of solemnization.
(b) The printed names, signatures, and mailing addresses of at least one, and no more than two, witnesses to the ceremony.
(c) The official position of the person solemnizing the marriage, or of the denomination of which that person is a priest, minister, rabbi, or other authorized person of any religious denomination.
(d) The person solemnizing the marriage shall also type or print their name and mailing address.
(Amended by Stats. 2019, Ch. 115, Sec. 9. (AB 1817) Effective January 1, 2020.)
How to Get a California Marriage License
Couples who wish to marry in California must first obtain a marriage license from a county clerk’s office. The law does not specify which county clerk’s office to go to (the county in which one or both parties live, the county in which they plan to tie the knot, etc.). If a marriage license is granted, it may be used anywhere in the state.
In most counties, the only documentation a couple needs to obtain a marriage license is proof of identification from both parties. If one or both parties does not have a valid or suitable ID, the court may accept an affidavit from a credible witness. Few counties require parties to also present their birth certificates. Both members of the couple must pick up the license in person.
If a party to a couple has been married before, the county clerk will require proof of either divorce or nullity.
The courts cannot legally require a blood test to disprove kinship. There is a filing fee to obtain a marriage license, which varies from county to county.
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FAM § 350. (a) Before entering a marriage, or declaring a marriage pursuant to Section 425, the parties shall first obtain a marriage license from a county clerk
(Amended by Stats. 2004, Ch. 476, Sec. 1. Effective September 10, 2004.)
FAM § 364 (a) Each applicant for a marriage license shall be required to present authentic photo identification acceptable to the county clerk as to name and date of birth. A credible witness affidavit or affidavits may be used in lieu of authentic photo identification.
(b) For the purpose of ascertaining the facts mentioned or required in this part, if the clerk deems it necessary, the clerk may examine the applicants for a marriage license on oath at the time of the application. The clerk shall reduce the examination to writing and the applicants shall sign it.
(c) If necessary, the clerk may request additional documentary proof as to the accuracy of the facts stated
(Amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816, Sec. 10. Effective January 1, 2007. Operative January 1, 2008, by Sec. 56 of Ch. 816.)
Both parties must appear in person and bring valid picture identification to the County Clerk’s Office to apply for a marriage license in California. Valid picture identification is one that contains a photograph, date of birth, and an issue and expiration date, such as a state-issued identification card, drivers license, passport, military identification, etc. Some counties may also require a copy of your birth certificate.
If you have been married before, you will need to know the specific date your last marriage ended, and how it ended (Death, Dissolution, Divorce or Nullity). Some counties may require a copy of the final judgment if your previous marriage ended by dissolution or nullity.
Marriage licenses are valid for 90 days from the date of issuance. If you do not get married within 90 days, the license will no longer be valid. You must purchase a new license.
The fees and hours of issuance for a marriage license may vary by county.
The person solemnizing the marriage must return the original marriage license to the County Clerk or County Recorder as applicable within 10 days of the date of the ceremony.
Finalizing the Union
Once the ceremony is complete, there are only a few things left to do. On the minister’s end, he or she must put his or her title (“Minister”) and name (full legal name only, no title) in the appropriate fields of the certificate. If the license asks for the name of the ordaining church, the minister should enter “Universal Life Church Ministries.” The minister should keep a record of the ceremony in case the courts have any questions.
The minister and the married couple should review the license to ensure that everything is complete and accurate. If it is, the members of the couple should return it to the same county clerk’s office from which they obtained it within 10 days of the ceremony. If the license contains mistakes or if the couple does not return it within the specified timeframe, the court will have to issue a new license, for which the couple will have to pay additional fees.
Above all, enjoy the big day. It should be one full of love, laughter and memories.
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FAM § 307 This division, so far as it relates to the solemnizing of marriage, is not applicable to members of a particular religious society or denomination not having clergy for the purpose of solemnizing marriage or entering the marriage relation, if all of the following requirements are met:
(a) The parties to the marriage sign and endorse on the form prescribed by the State Department of Public Health, showing all of the following:
(1) The fact, time, and place of entering into the marriage.
(2) The printed names, signatures, and mailing addresses of two witnesses to the ceremony.
(3) The religious society or denomination of the parties to the marriage, and that the marriage was entered into in accordance with the rules and customs of that religious society or denomination. The statement of the parties to the marriage that the marriage was entered into in accordance with the rules and customs of the religious society or denomination is conclusively presumed to be true.
(b) The License and Certificate of Non-Clergy Marriage, endorsed pursuant to subdivision (a), is returned to the county recorder of the county in which the license was issued within 10 days after the ceremony.
(Amended (as amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816) by Stats. 2007, Ch. 483, Sec. 9. Effective January 1, 2008.)