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How to Find California Marriage Records

Marriage is regarded as a vow that two people make to share their lives with one another, but it also serves as a legal state contract that establishes the rights and obligations between the two spouses, their children, and other family members. In California, two individuals who wish to get married must purchase a marriage license from a county recorder's office. A record of the marriage will be permanently preserved by the issuing office. This record may either be a confidential or public marriage record, depending on the type of California marriage license issued.

Like marriage licenses, there are various kinds of California marriage records. Confidential marriage records are only available to a registrant of the confidential marriage license or someone with a court order. Meanwhile, public marriage records can be accessed by uninvolved parties, such as a law enforcement agency, the grandparent of a registrant, or the attorney of a registrant's estate. Although access may not always be guaranteed to California public marriage records, people can still obtain informational copies of these records because of their ascribed public access status.

Similar to the dissolution of marriage records (e.g., divorce certificates), there are different ways that government bodies legally record marriages, and understanding the difference between these vital statistics records can assist a requesting party when trying to access and use California marriage records.

Are California Marriage Records Public?

Yes, marriage records are public in California. However, while California marriage records are public, they may be significantly difficult to obtain due to the personal nature of the information within. Government organizations often offer marriage verification letters rather than original marriage records because marriage records must remain intact and unchanged with regard to the people involved in the marriage. If changes need to be made, these records are critical to that procedure.

Both marriage records and divorce records are categorized as family court records. Since they contain the personal information of the parties involved, certified copies may not be available through government sources or third-party public record websites.

How to Find Out if Someone is Married in California

The ease with which a person can find out if another is married in California primarily depends on whether the inquirer knows the county where the marriage event took place as well as the marriage dates. If this information is known, it is simply a matter of contacting the county recorder's office to find the marriage record. However, if the marriage record is confidential, the place of inquiry would be the county clerk's office in the judicial district where the license was issued, and only the registrants or persons bearing a California court order would be allowed to conduct the marriage record search.

Suppose the county where a marriage took place is unknown to the inquirer, and the event took place in the following periods:

  • 1905 to 1999
  • 2009 to 2020

In that case, the information seeker can carry out the public marriage record search through the California Vital Records Office. For years outside the preceding timeframes, the requestor must contact the county clerk or recorder's office that issued the marriage license (if known).

If pinning down the California county that recorded a marriage becomes a grueling task, an inquirer may consider searching the websites of third-party public record providers. In this regard, the advantage over county government websites is that third-party public records tools can search within several geographical regions simultaneously. This way, the inquirer has a greater chance of uncovering the county of recording.

How to Check Marriage Status Online

To check the marriage status of an individual online, requestors may use a court lookup tool or the online archives of a vital records custodian. To use either tool, the requesting party will need to provide some personal information, such as the name of the subject of the record as well as the marriage dates (if known). Requestors may also expedite the search by providing the marriage license number and date of issuance.

These tools allow requestors to enter the applicable information and then search for any marriages that may be recorded under name provided. If there are any marriages listed, the inquirer will be able to view the details of each one. This includes the date of the marriage, the county in which it was filed, and the type of license that was issued.

What is a California Marriage Record?

A California marriage record is a complete record consisting of marriage certificates and marriage licenses. Each of these types of records holds different degrees of standing and verification that a marriage has taken place. There are different types of records utilized for different processes. Most have similar information, but essentially they all state the same things: that a legal union of two people took place in the eyes of the California state government.

Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third-party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third-party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning the availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

Where to Find Free California Marriage Records

For members of the public, it is not possible to gain access to marriage records of any kind for free. However, one can obtain public marriage licenses or certificates for a small fee through the county clerk's office in the county where the marriage occurred. These records will not be state verified, as verification may be costly, but they are a statement that the marriage has been finalized and can serve many purposes. To contact the County Recorder’s Office in the specific county where the marriage took place, visit the California State Association of Counties Website for a list of counties and their contact information.

It may be necessary to note that marriage verifications are not always stand-ins for marriage licenses and certificates and may not be able to serve the same purpose.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage in California

A person that wants to change their name after marriage in California must follow specific steps. Parties must first apply for a marriage license. These licenses are official documents that signify a name change and are required when altering federal documents. Couples in California can send license applications to the county clerk before getting married and pay $35 to $110, depending on the county. Payments may be made via cash or money order payable to the record custodian.

Requestors who are already married will need to get a certified copy of their marriage license (with a raised seal) before applying to change their name after marriage. Certified copies are also available at the county clerk's office and usually cost $15 per copy. Once the person planning a name change after marriage gets their certificate, they must first submit an application for a new social security card to the Social Security Administration (SSA). They must download and complete the application for a new Social Security card and attach the following:

  • Certified copy of marriage license
  • Photo identification (driver's license, state identification card, or passport)

Applicants can submit completed packages to their local SSA office in person or by mail. Processing might take 2-3 weeks. Upon getting a new social security card, the person changing their name after marriage can visit their local DMV to get a new driver's license. The applicant must then present a copy of their California marriage certificate and their current driver's license or any accompanying document with proof of their birth date. By the end of their visit, parties will have a new driver's license with their new name printed on it.

What are California Marriage Certificates?

California marriage certificates are documents given to couples after they have gotten married. They are not licenses, as they act as proof of marriage rather than approval for marriage.

How Do I Get My Marriage Certificate in California?

Public marriage certificates in California are maintained by the County Recorder’s Office in the county where the marriage license was purchased. The California Vital Records Office (CDPH-VR) only maintains public marriage records that happened in the years of 1905-2000 or 2008 to the present day. Typically, this record will note that a marriage took place, where it took place and the names of the involved parties. To apply for a marriage record through the county recorder’s office, contact the specific office and they should be able to guide any requesting parties through the process. Applying through the county recorder's offices can often render faster results than applying through the CDPH-VR. To apply for a marriage record through CDPH-VR, it is necessary to fill out the application form along with all fees required and a valid photocopy of the requesting party's identification. There is a $15.00 copy fee for each certificate. The check or money order should be made payable to CDPH Vital Records. For each additional request, it is necessary to fill out another application. On the application form, the following information must be known:

  • The name of the party as it appears on the license
  • The date or date range of the marriage
  • The city or county where the marriage occurred
  • Both of the spouse's birth date
  • The age of both of the spouses when the marriage was finalized

Mail this application to:

CA Department of Public Health – Vital Records
MS: 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

How Do I Obtain a Copy of My Marriage Certificate in California

To obtain a marriage certificate in California, a registrant must visit the county clerk or court recorder’s office in the county where the marriage happened. Depending on the county of the marriage, fees and requirements for obtaining these records may vary. Individuals can also order a public marriage certificate online through an independent third party or by mail from the California Vital Records Office. Each online order or mail request for a marriage certificate costs $17.

What are California Marriage Licenses?

In order to get married in California, parties must obtain what is called a Marriage License. There are two kinds of marriage licenses in California: Public or Confidential. Both of these documents require information and agreements from both parties, but the requirements differ slightly. The necessary information includes the names of both parties, date of the upcoming marriage, and a marriage statement.

A marriage license is also a contract that states what rights and obligations both parties must meet and abide by.

Confidential marriage license records are not available for viewing or copying by anyone but the two subjects of the record or a requestor authorized by a court order.

California Public Marriage Licenses

A Public Marriage license is typically requested when a couple wishes to have a traditional ceremony. These can be obtained by any county recorder's office with the correct information and identification. There is no appointment necessary to obtain a marriage license, but a Marriage License Application (usually found online) must have been completed at least two weeks before the visit to the county clerk. Marriage licenses can be issued in between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on holidays.

A public marriage license is valid for 90 days before expiration, and both parties must not be currently married. The fee for a public marriage in California is $83.00, and a certified pre-paid copy can be issued immediately for $15.00 more. To have this certified copy, the fee must be pre-paid. The fee can be paid in the form of cash, check, money order, or debit or credit card (these require a processing fee of $2.50).

California Confidential Marriage Licenses

A confidential marriage in California is not considered a public record. The requesting parties must sign an affidavit agreeing that they have been living together as a couple prior to applying for a confidential marriage license. They must also be 18 years of age or older and be married in the county where the license was obtained. No witnesses are required for this ceremony, and no ceremony is required either. The fee for a confidential marriage license is $89.00, and $15.00 more for every extra copy. The forms of payment are similar to that of a public marriage license. If someone is requesting a copy of these records and they are not one of the spouses, they must have a court order as well as the following information:

  • The full name of the parties involved
  • Their birth date
  • The county clerk or department where the license was issued
  • Evidence of their eligibility -- i.e. ID or identifying documents

Are Prenups Public Record in California?

No. A prenup, short for prenuptial agreement (otherwise called a "premarital agreement"), is a legally enforceable contract that partners may enter before marriage. It outlines the property rights of a couple in the event of a dissolution of marriage (divorce). The rules and requirements of prenups in California are articulated under the state's Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA), not public records law. Even so, a prenup is a private document containing a couple's important financial information and may carry each partner's personal rights, roles, and obligations, provided the terms do not violate public policy or criminal law. Such documents are not publicly available in California.