How to Plan a Destination Wedding: The Marriage License

How to Plan a Destination Wedding: The Marriage License | Southern New England Weddings | Annie's Escapes Custom Travel Planning, Cranston, RI | | Carolyn Meers Photography

Have you looked into the marriage licensing process with your soon-to-be, yet? Navigating the many hoops of “making it official” (literally) can be somewhat convoluted and stressful, and your wedding day’s most important technical component gets even more confusing if you’re planning a destination wedding.

We started to do some research for you- weddings in other states or countries are subject to local laws and licensing, and there are usually subsequent steps to transfer the license to your home state-  but decided we needed to call in a pro for backup. Enter Ann Petronio, of Annie’s Escapes Custom Travel Planning, who breaks down all things marriage licensing for the jet-setting couple.

How to Plan a Destination Wedding: The Marriage License | Southern New England Weddings | Annie's Escapes Custom Travel Planning, Cranston, RI | | Carolyn Meers Photography

Ann helped this couple plan their wedding at a romantic villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. You can watch their wedding video, which features fun, friends, sunshine, dance parties and one epic infinity pool overlooking the city here. Photo by Carolyn Meers.

Southern New England Weddings: If a couple is planning a destination wedding in a state that differs from the one they reside in, how will their marriage license work? Where should they go and who should they contact to get the licensing process started?

Ann Petronio: The marriage license is basically your “permit” to be married, and it is specific to the city/town where the ceremony will take place. Once you know where you plan to be married, you’ll need to reach out to the town clerk (county clerk, etc.) and find out about the local regulations. In Las Vegas, for example, it’s the County Clerk’s office that handles it, and you need to present a driver’s license and social security number and pay a $55 fee. In Florida, another popular wedding destination, it’s also the local County Clerk that handles it, and you need to show a driver’s license and social security number, pay a $94 fee, and sit through a three-day waiting period from the date of application to the date the license is valid.

SNEW: What happens when they return home? Will the license apply everywhere? What about same sex marriages?

AP: If a heterosexual couple is legally married in another US state, then they are viewed as legally married back at home in New England, with no other steps required. The regulations for same-sex couples are a little more complicated, and are still evolving and changing. In states that legally recognize same-sex marriage (including RI, MA, NH, VT, NY, and CT), if a couple is legally-married in any state that recognizes same-sex marriage, then they are also considered to be legally-married back at home, and are treated that way in terms of benefits, etc. In other parts of the country, in the “non-recognition” states, or in states where the rules are a little bit fuzzy, same-sex couples legally married elsewhere may not be viewed as legally married back at home.

SNEW: What about couples who are traveling abroad for their wedding? How does the licensing work then? Do they need to “make it official” with their home state once they return from their trip?

AP: For couples who are marrying abroad, it is very important to be aware of the local rules/regulations. Every country has their own procedures which must be followed (waiting periods, blood tests, documentation, etc.) before a marriage license will be granted. Then, once the wedding is performed, there are different rules about whether the marriage is legally-recognized back home, or whether there are extra steps to be taken. For example, in Mexico, it is only a civil ceremony (performed by a local judge) that is recognized as a legal ceremony, and the marriage certificate must still be registered with your local clerk once you get back home. Because of the extra “hoops” to jump through, many couples decide to do the legal wedding here in the US (at the courthouse) before departing, and then do a symbolic ceremony abroad. Regardless of whether you’re planning a legal or a symbolic ceremony, it’s a very good idea to work with a destination wedding specialist so that you don’t run into any unpleasant surprises along the way.

SNEW: What’s the hardest part of planning a destination wedding, from your perspective? What’s the most fun part?

AP: To me, as the travel planner, the hardest part of any destination wedding is to manage the questions and concerns of all of the guests. There are always a few friends/relatives who are resistant to the idea of a destination wedding in general, and want to complain to me about the destination, the time of year, the resort, the cost, etc. There are nervous travelers who have a million questions about leaving the country, and procrastinators who wait until the last second to commit to coming along. But the best part is that I get to shield the bride and groom from all of that, and be their “buffer”, so that they can just enjoy the planning and look forward to the wedding of their dreams. The most fun part for me is when everyone gets back home and I get to see the photos ☺


For more great advice from Ann, check out our post on planning a destination wedding.

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