Why Do You Need Witnesses to Sign Your Marriage License?

Their signatures make your union legal. Learn all about this crucial step here.

wedding ceremony
Photo: Kat Braman

One of the most important pre-wedding tasks you must do doesn't involve buttercream or seating charts. It's asking someone (or two people) to be your ceremony witness(es) and to sign your marriage license. The license is a required document in the U.S. that, once signed by the requisite parties, makes your marriage legal. Here's what you need to know about those all-important witnesses.

Who can be a witness?

Though many couples choose their maid of honor and best man to be their witnesses, you might someone else do the honors instead-siblings, parents, grandparents, or close friends are all nice choices, too. Of course, if you elope and it's just the two of you, the officiant's spouse or another total stranger may be your only option for a witness. And that's fine-the only requirements in most states are that the people must be able to understand and witness the wedding ceremony and sign their names.

What do witnesses do?

They literally witness the wedding ceremony, and when it's over, witness the couple and the officiant signing the marriage license. Then it's their turn to sign. As far as wedding-related jobs go, this one is pretty simple.

Is their job limited to the wedding day?

Yes. Witnesses don't need to be present when the bride and groom apply for the marriage license.

How many witnesses are needed?

Most states require one or two witnesses; others, like Alabama, don't require any. Check with the county clerk's office in the state where your wedding will take place for specifics.

What happens to the signed license?

It's the officiant's job to file the license with the local government recording agency. A few weeks later, you'll receive a marriage certificate proclaiming you're married in the eyes of the law!

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