California Wedding Laws
Written and reviewed by the wedding law liaison team at the Universal Life Church.
You've arrived at the California marriage laws guide! Whether you're officiating your first wedding, or if it's been awhile since your last, it's always a good idea to check up on the local marriage laws. To make sure everything goes smoothly on the big day, we recommend reviewing this guide we've put together. Among other things, it will explain how to become a wedding minister, how to marry someone, and how to ensure the wedding is legal in California.
Below are is the simple checklist one must follow to officiate a wedding:
How Do I Become Ordained to Marry in California
The ordination process to become a marriage officiant is not nearly as difficult as you might anticipate. In fact, our online ordination process is straightforward, fast, and completely free. Legally licensed ministers of the ULC conduct countless marriages in California every year. Once you have your minister license, officiating a wedding is just a hop, skip, and a jump away! Click the link below to get started.
How Do You Perform a Wedding in California
For starters, you should get ahold of the marriage license office in the county where the wedding will take place. Introduce yourself as an ordained minister and ask what documents officials will need to see from you. You might be asked to provide several different documents to confirm your ordination status, and note that these requirements can vary from county to county. What one county might require, the one next door might not - which is why we recommend contacting local officials prior to the wedding. Any documents they might request are available through the Minister Store on our website.
Select a county to see contact information for each office:
What Do You Need to Officiate a Wedding in California
After you've spoken with county marriage officials, simply visit our website, sign in to your account, and order the necessary supplies. Based on the feedback we've received from our ministers in California, we recommend picking up a California Wedding Set
For the most part, ministers are not required to register in California. That being said, it's not uncommon for the county clerk to ask for proof of your ordination before giving the "go-ahead" to perform marriage ceremonies. It can also give the couple peace of mind to know that their wedding minister has all official documentation, such as the ordination certificate, on hand. Per the request of the county officials, we suggest ordering your official documents well in advance.
How to Get a California Marriage License
Marriage licenses in California are issued by county clerk's offices. While it is the couple's duty to pick up the license directly from the clerk, the minister should be aware of the rules pertaining to marriage licenses the relevant county. For example, if the couple is getting a Sacramento marriage license, it's the minister's job to know if there are any specific regulations in place for that locality.
California marriage licenses are valid for 90 days after being picked up from the county clerk. There is no mandatory waiting period, meaning the ceremony can be held immediately after the license is issued. After the wedding has been performed, the license must be returned to the county within 10 days.
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How Do You Officiate a Wedding?
Once all the paperwork is in order, you're ready to perform the wedding! If you need any guidance in this area, please don't hesitate to consult the resources linked below. These carefully-constructed pages provide helpful tips and information on all aspects of performing a wedding ceremony. Made with our wedding officiants in mind, they contain everything you'll need to plan the perfect ceremony.
Many ULC ministers have used these same resources for guidance when becoming professional officiants!
Finalizing the Marriage
Now there's just one more step - but it's a very important one! After performing the wedding, you must sign the marriage license (along with the couple and their witnesses). Your official title will be "Minister"; for ceremony type, put "Religious"; for denomination, write "Non-Denominational".
If prompted to provide an address of ministry, put your personal ministry or home address. Do not put the address of ULC headquarters. Lastly, remember that the signed license must be turned in to the marriage office before the deadline!
California Marriage Laws
Marriage laws in California are primarily directed by California's Family Code. This section defines persons authorized to perform a marriage in the State of California, which includes ordained ministers of the Universal Life Church, among others. We've provided the relevant portion below.
§ 400. Marriage may be solemnized by any of the following who is of the age of 18 years or older:
§ 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.
(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a member of the Armed Forces of the United States who is stationed overseas and serving in a conflict or a war and is unable to appear for the licensure and solemnization of the marriage may enter into that marriage by the appearance of an attorney in fact, commissioned and empowered in writing for that purpose through a power of attorney. The attorney in fact shall personally appear at the county clerk's office with the party who is not stationed overseas and present the original power of attorney duly signed by the party stationed overseas and acknowledged before a notary or witnessed by two officers of the United States Armed Forces. Copies in any form, including by facsimile, are not acceptable. The power of attorney shall state the full given names at birth, or by court order, of the parties to be married, and that the power of attorney is solely for the purpose of authorizing the attorney in fact to obtain a marriage license on the person's behalf and participate in the solemnization of the marriage. The original power of attorney shall be a part of the marriage certificate upon registration. The completion of a power of attorney shall be the sole determinant as to whether the county clerk's office and the State Registrar will accept the power of attorney.
(c) A contract of marriage, if otherwise duly made, shall not be invalidated for want of conformity to the requirements of any religious sect.
(Amended by Stats. 2016, Ch. 130, Sec. 1. (AB 2128) Effective January 1, 2017.)
§ 421. Before solemnizing a marriage, the person solemnizing the marriage shall require the presentation of the marriage license. If the person solemnizing the marriage has reason to doubt the correctness of the statement of facts in the marriage license, the person must be satisfied as to the correctness of the statement of facts before solemnizing the marriage. For this purpose, the person may administer oaths and examine the parties and witnesses in the same manner as the county clerk does before issuing the license.
(Enacted by Stats. 1992, Ch. 162, Sec. 10. Operative January 1, 1994.)
§ 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 his or her name and mailing address.
(Amended (as amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816) by Stats. 2007, Ch. 483, Sec. 12. Effective January 1, 2008.)
§ 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.
(b) For purposes of Section 102356 of the Health and Safety Code, the person solemnizing the marriage shall include with the marriage license described in subdivision (a) a copy of the court order granting permission to marry described in Section 304, if one or both of the parties to the marriage were minors at the time of solemnization of the marriage.
(Amended by Stats. 2018, Ch. 660, Sec. 6. (SB 273) Effective January 1, 2019.)
§ 425. If no record of the solemnization of a California marriage previously contracted under this division for that marriage is known to exist, the parties may purchase a License and Certificate of Declaration of Marriage from the county clerk in the parties' county of residence one year or more from the date of the marriage. The license and certificate shall be returned to the county recorder of the county in which the license was issued.
(Amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816, Sec. 20. Effective January 1, 2007. Operative January 1, 2008, by Sec. 56 of Ch. 816.)
§ 426. If for sufficient reason, as described in subdivision (d), either or both of the parties to be married are physically unable to appear in person before the county clerk, a marriage license may be issued by the county clerk to the person solemnizing the marriage if the following requirements are met:
(a) The person solemnizing the marriage physically presents an affidavit to the county clerk explaining the reason for the inability to appear.
(b) The affidavit is signed under penalty of perjury by the person solemnizing the marriage and by both parties.
(c) The signature of any party to be married who is unable to appear in person before the county clerk is authenticated by a notary public or a court prior to the county clerk issuing the marriage license.
(d) Sufficient reason includes proof of hospitalization, incarceration, or any other reason proved to the satisfaction of the county clerk.
(Added by Stats. 2006, Ch. 816, Sec. 21. Effective January 1, 2007. Operative January 1, 2008, by Sec. 56 of Ch. 816.)