Where to go
Before you can get married in Delaware, you must obtain a marriage license from a county-level clerk of the peace office, which is also referred to as the marriage bureau.
Unless you're critically ill, you and your prospective spouse must appear together when applying for a license.
Clerk of the peace office locations may be found at the end of this document; there are only three counties in the state, with one clerk's office apiece.
The clerk of the peace is the person who will issue you your marriage license.
If the clerk of the peace is absent or unavailable, any designated deputy clerk is authorized to issue you a license and perform all duties of the principal clerk.
Delaware is unique, given that it's the only state in the union that employs clerks of the peace, whose primary function is to issue marriage licenses.
Applying by proxy
If you are unable to attend the making of the application due to severe illness, an attending physician may appear on your behalf and submit an affidavit that states you are facing imminent death and may lawfully marry.
The application will be modified to reflect the physician's role as proxy and the physician's affidavit will be filed with the application.
Applying by proxy can only be done by one party to the marriage.
Under the influence
If you show up under the influence of alcohol or narcotic drugs, you will not be issued a marriage license.
If you or your prospective spouse does not speak English, you must bring a translator who's at least 18 years old and equipped with identification.
A Delaware marriage license costs $50–70 for state residents and $100–120 for nonresidents. Only one applicant needs to show proof of residency to qualify for the lower price point. Fees are nonrefundable.
The following table shows specific marriage license prices per county:
Currently serving clerks of the peace are required to perform in office civil ceremonies—which are secular—upon request and payment. The cost is $50 for state residents and $100 for nonresidents. Only one applicant needs to be a resident to get the lower price. Ceremonies are typically by appointment only.
Although civil ceremony fees are nonrefundable, you can reassign the funds to a rescheduled ceremony date if good cause is exhibited.
The marriage application process takes about 20–30 minutes to complete.
You must disclose the following information about yourself on the marriage license application:
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Parents' birth names, birthplaces, and residences
- Date and place of last marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or equivalent
- Location and court, if on probation or parole
- Affirmation that you're not related to each other within a prohibited degree
Oath or affirmation
The clerk of the peace will administer an oath where you must swear or affirm, under penalty of perjury, that the information you've provided on the application and to the clerk's inquiries is truthful.
Your application will be permanently retained in the office of the clerk of the peace.
Your issued marriage license will contain the clerk of the peace's signature, county seal, and a "certificate of marriage" portion to be filled out by your officiant and witnesses at the end of your ceremony.
Your marriage license may be used anywhere in Delaware, and only in Delaware.
Wait time to issuance
Your marriage license will be issued to you the same day you apply for it.
Wait time to use
You must wait 24 hours before using your issued marriage license. Therefore, you ought to obtain your license at least one full day before your marriage ceremony commences.
The clerk of the peace is authorized to shorten or waive the 24-hour waiting period, assuming you're able to demonstrate good cause.
Your marriage license will expire 30 days after issuance. Since there's a 24-hour delay between issuance and usage, you'll realistically have 29 days to use your license. The earliest and latest date and time you can marry will be printed on the license.
The clerk of the peace has the power to extend the 30-day expiration period up to 180 days if you can show good cause.
You will not be granted a refund, extension, or reinstatement for an unused and expired license.
Delaware no longer requires you to undergo a blood test in order to receive a marriage license. The serological test and premarital physical exam requirement was repealed, effective July 23, 1982.
You must present one form of valid photo identification that's to the satisfaction of the clerk of the peace, such as a driver's license, state-issued ID card, active military ID card, passport, permanent resident card, or consulate identification card.
Your identification must show your date of birth and match the name on your application.
If you claim to be a state resident, proof must be provided. Otherwise, you will have to pay the costlier nonresident marriage license fee.
If you're below the age of 18, your parent, legal guardian, or court-appointed "next friend" must petition a Delaware Family Court judge to grant and sign a court order that permits you to marry. Bring a certified copy of the court order with you when applying for a marriage license.
The petition must be filed in the county where you reside. If both you and your prospective spouse are minors, the petition must be filed in the county of whoever's younger.
When determining if marriage is in your best interest, the court takes into account physical and mental wellbeing, criminal history, and the wishes of the applicants and parents or guardians.
On parole or probation
If you're on parole or probation, you must present written authorization to marry from your parole or probation officer to the clerk of the peace.
Widows and widowers
If your last marriage left you widowed, you must present a certified copy of your spouse's death certificate to the clerk of the peace for inspection.
If the certificate is not written in English, it must be supplemented by a certified translation.
Divorces and annulments
If your last marriage ended in divorce or annulment, you must present a certified copy of your divorce decree, divorce certificate, or annulment certificate to the clerk of the peace.
If you're unable to produce your decree or certificate, you must get a resident judge of the county you're applying in to issue a "certificate of the facts" that details the particulars of your divorce or annulment.
Non-English documents must be accompanied by a certified English translation.
The person who solemnizes, or officiates, your marriage ceremony is called the officiant and must be at least 18 years of age. Following are the types of officiants authorized to solemnize marriages:
Clerks of the peace
You can request any current or former clerk of the peace to solemnize your marriage within the county they hold or held elective office. If the current clerk of the peace is unavailable, a deputy clerk can carry out the solemnization on their boss' behalf.
Another county's clerk of the peace can solemnize your marriage if they receive written authorization from the target county's clerk of the peace.
The fee covering a current clerk of the peace rendered civil ceremony is governed by state law.
Clerks of the peace who still hold the office are the only authorized officiants required by law to perform a marriage ceremony upon request and cannot opt out due to religious or secular objections.
Your marriage may be solemnized by any current or former state judge of the supreme court, superior court, family court, justice of the peace court, court of common pleas, or court of chancery. Current or former federal judges or magistrates who hold or held jurisdiction over the state may also solemnize.
A current or former judge or magistrate from another state or federal jurisdiction can solemnize your marriage if written authorization is obtained from the county's clerk of the peace.
Your marriage may be solemnized by any mayor of Delaware's 57 incorporated municipalities, and only within the boundaries of that municipality. If there's no mayor, the legislative body's president may solemnize. If there's no president, the presiding officer may solemnize.
Your marriage may be solemnized by any minister or member of the clergy, of any religious denomination, from anywhere.
Your marriage may be solemnized according to the usual customs of any religious society. The congregation or qualified designated officer of the religious society is responsible for properly presiding over the ceremony.
Before your marriage ceremony can officially commence, you must submit your marriage license to the officiant. You must also not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Once the ceremony is done, the officiant must "certify" the certificate of marriage by documenting the ceremony date, time, and location; his or her name, title, and residence; and direct the witnesses to fill in their portion.
At least two adult witnesses of good repute who are at least 18 years old must attend your marriage ceremony and sign and enter their place of residence on the certificate of marriage afterward.
The officiant must return the certificate of marriage to the issuing clerk—at no charge to you—within five days after the ceremony. If 15 days after the ceremony passes without a return, the officiant will be levied a $50 late fee. Nonpayment will result in the suspension of solemnization authority until payment is made.
Refusal to solemnize
Any person—excluding clerks of the peace and their deputies—authorized to solemnize marriages may refuse to solemnize for any reason and such refusal is insulated from civil and criminal penalties.
Solemnization abstention is often employed in the name of "religious freedom" by members of the clergy and religious societies who do not want to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
If your marriage is solemnized by someone who lacked the authority to do so, it would void the marriage unless you, or your spouse, or both fully believed it was carried out authentically.
Nonetheless, the unauthorized officiant will be fined $100 and subject to a maximum of 30 days imprisonment upon nonpayment.
Once your certificate of marriage is returned to the issuing clerk, the ceremony date and officiant's name will be logged in a serialized "marriage record book" provided by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).
The marriage record book is a public record that is available for inspection by the general public.
Office of vital statistics
The clerk of the peace will file your marriage certificate with the office of vital statistics. This is an entirely separate office within the same county which will be responsible for issuing you a certified copy of your marriage certificate, upon request.
You can obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate from the office of vital statistics in the county where your marriage license was purchased and subsequently recorded.
Certified copy fee
A certified copy of your marriage certificate costs $25 per copy, which must be paid even if no matching record is found. Fifteen dollars out of the fee is used to fund state domestic violence programs.
Military pays no fee
If you're an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, or a service member's spouse, you're exempt from having to pay the certificate copy fee upon producing a valid military identification card.
Changing your name
If you plan to change your middle or last name after marriage, you can do so using a certified copy of your marriage certificate. Certified copies will be acknowledged by federal and state institutions, including courts of law, the Social Security Administration, DMV, and passport agency.
If you enter into a marriage where you know you have a living spouse or you know the person you intend to marry has a living spouse, you would be guilty of bigamy, which is a class G felony.
If you're prosecuted for bigamy, you may be able to escape punishment and voiding of the subsequent marriage if you assert one of the following conditions:
- After a thorough investigation, you concluded that your prior spouse was dead.
- You didn't know if your prior spouse was alive after having lived apart for seven successive years.
- You were unaware that a court had issued an invalid judgment that failed to dissolve your marriage.
- You reasonably believed you were lawfully permitted to remarry.
Marriage between any of the following family members is prohibited and void:
- First cousin
Children of prohibited marriages
Children who are the offspring of a prohibited marriage that has been voided or is voidable are legitimate.
Marrying out-of-state to evade the law
If you're a state resident who enters into a prohibited marriage outside the state, and then returns to cohabitate as spouses, you will be punished as if the illegitimate marriage took place in the state.
Delaware does not and has never recognized common-law marriages.
Civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc
Delaware treats same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships, or equivalent relationships established outside the state the same as marriage when it comes to rights, advantages, defenses, and obligations.
This treatment also extends to the children of such relationships.
What comes next?
Now that you understand what it takes to obtain a Delaware marriage license, it's time to choose a clerk of the peace office to apply in from the list of three counties below.
Wherever you apply, take into account varying business hours, payment types accepted, and other idiosyncrasies. For instance, New Castle County's office closes for lunch, Sussex County's office takes appointments, and Kent County's office is cash-only while the other two are more flexible.
Good luck to you on the remainder of your marriage journey.