Notice of intention of marriage
Massachusetts is peculiar, in that it doesn't refer to marriage license as a marriage license, but as a "notice of intention of marriage." Sometimes it's called "intention of marriage," "marriage intention", "notice," or "intention" for short.
The intention of marriage document is not the same thing as the eventually issued "marriage license": it's just the application. You'll be issued your license (a.k.a. certificate of marriage) three days after your intention is filed.
Where to apply?
You can apply for a license in any city or town clerk's office. Employees responsible for processing applications are the city or town clerk, registrar, or authorized assistant.
Since city and town registrars are far and few between, from this point forward we'll use "clerks" as shorthand to reference both clerks and registrars.
No-shows: sick, military, and inmates
If you can't attend the making of the application due to illness, have a registered physician prepare an affidavit attesting to your poor health. Your parent or legal guardian can act as your proxy. If you have no parent or legal guardian capable of stepping in, the other applicant can serve in their stead.
If either of you are members of the armed forces or incarcerated, the other applicant can apply on your behalf, provided one of you resides in the commonwealth.
The notice of intention of marriage application is designed by the Massachusetts Registrar of Vital Records and Statistics on behalf of all city and town clerks. Your submitted application will become a public record.
The application requires that you specify your name, preferred surname after marriage, age, date of birth, birthplace, sex, occupation, residence, total marriages and how the last ended, civil union or domestic partnership history, parents' names and birth surnames, relationship to one another if related by blood, and social security number.
Social security number
Your social security number is collected on a separate "supplement to notice of intention of marriage" form. This completed form will not become a public record, will not be kept in the city or town clerk's office, and will be forwarded to the State Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.
Upon request, the state registrar will make your social security number available to the Office of Child Support Enforcement as mandated by Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.
If you don't have a social security number, you must provide a brief explanation why, such as you don't live in the United States.
Signature and sworn oath
By signing the application you're making a declaration, under penalty of perjury, that everything you've stated is true and that no lawful impediment exists that would prevent you from marrying. Swearing falsely is punishable by a fine of up to $100.
The city or town clerk will administer the oath.
A Massachusetts marriage license costs $4 to $60, with $25 being the most common fee.
The statewide price inconsistency arises due to each town and city being able to set their own prices by a town meeting action or city county action, respectively.
Massachusetts does not impose residency requirements or restrictions. Mass residents and nonresidents may apply and marry anywhere within the commonwealth.
There's a three-day wait between the day you apply for a marriage license and when it will be issued. For instance, if you apply on Tuesday it will be ready for pick up on Friday. Sundays and legal holidays count as part of the three days.
Once you receive your license, you can marry immediately. Your license will remain available for pickup until it expires.
Note: Some of the smaller towns aren't open five days a week and have limited hours, so schedule your application and pick up days accordingly.
Getting a waiver
The three-day wait can be waived by a probate court judge or district court justice. You'll have to go through an evidentiary hearing. If good cause is found, you'll be given a certificate that directs the city or town clerk to immediately issue the license. You must obtain the waiver before applying for your license.
A waiver may also be obtained direct from the city or town clerk if extraordinary circumstances warrant it, such as imminent death; or there's an authorized requested from a clergyperson, representative of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís, or attending physician.
No wait for immigrants
If you or the other applicant arrived in this country as an immigrant within five days prior to applying, the three-day waiting period will automatically be dismissed and the license will be issued right away.
Your marriage license will expire 60 days after you apply for it. If you don't get married within 60 days, you must return the license to the city or town clerk office that issued it. Failure to return your unused license will result in a fine of $10 or less.
If you're below the age of 18, you can only marry with parental consent and judicial authorization.
Parental consent must be acknowledged in writing and in the presence of the city or town clerk, upon a consent form provided by the clerk.
If you have a legal guardian, obtain consent from him or her. If both parents live in Massachusetts, obtain consent from both. If only one parent lives in the commonwealth, obtain consent from him or her.
If neither parent lives in the commonwealth, a probate or district judge will notify one or both to attend a scheduled hearing before deciding your marital fate.
If your parent, or parents, are ineligible to grant consent due to declared unfitness, abandonment, or mental illness, the judge will be the sole decider.
In addition to parental consent, permission to marry must come from a probate court judge of the county where you reside or district court judge of the judicial district where you reside.
Following a hearing, if the judge decides it's in your best interest to marry, you'll be granted a certified order that instructs the city or town clerk to issue a license.
Identification is solicited to confirm your age. It's only absolutely required if you're below the age of 18, or the clerk suspects you may be underage even if you claim otherwise.
Primary forms of ID
City and town clerks are required to accept any of the following forms of ID:
- Original or certified copy of a birth or baptismal record
- Life insurance policy
- Employment certificate
- School record
- USCIS-issued immigration record
- Naturalization record
- Court record, such as a divorce decree
Secondary forms of ID
If you have no first tier identification, then present some secondary form of identification, such as a driver's license, although it must be to the satisfaction of the clerk.
No satisfactory identification
If you have no satisfactory form of identification, then get a parent to vouch for your age. If even that's not possible, you'll have to get a court order from a probate or district court judge, same as if you were underage.
Issued license (a.k.a. certificate of marriage)
Three days after your notice of intention of marriage is submitted—assuming you didn't get a waiver—you'll be issued a "certificate of marriage" composed and signed by the city or town clerk. This document copies over everything from the application, minus social security numbers. You're to present it to whoever will solemnize your marriage.
Despite the "certificate of marriage" title, this document is your "marriage license."
Divorcees and widowers
If you've been divorced within the past 90 days, you cannot get married again until the full 90 days have passed. Widowers aren't held to such a standard.
You are not required to get a blood test in order to receive a marriage license.
The commissioner of public health compiles a list of forbidden marriages that city and town clerk offices are required by law to prominently display. The following types of marriages are prohibited and automatically void if established.
Although the application will ask if you're related to the other applicant by blood, state law doesn't actually distinguish between whole blood, half blood, or adoptive relationships.
You are prohibited from marrying anyone within the following three family member groups:
Immediate and extended family
This is banned group 1 of 3:
This is banned group 2 of 3:
- Grandparent's spouse
- Child's spouse
- Grandchild's spouse
Note, the above three includes ex/prior spouses.
This is banned group 3 of 3:
- Spouse's grandparent
- Spouse's parent
- Spouse's child
- Spouse's grandchild
Note, the above four also includes ex/prior spouses.
Extends beyond death and divorce
The last two groupings—X's spouse and spouse's X—may seem a combination of redundant and pointless to mention, as it would constitute bigamy, but Massachusetts puts an unexpected spin on this interpretation by including exes.
Marriage between any of the above family relations would remain intact and perpetually forbidden even if a divorce or death ended a marriage. For example:
- If you were to divorce your husband or wife, you couldn't later marry their parent or child; although you could marry their sibling.
- If your grandparent, child, or grandchild were to pass away, you couldn't marry their widow or widower.
The only way around these established affinities is if the marriage in question was dissolved because it was initially illegal or void.
First cousin marriage permitted
If you were expecting to see first cousin referenced as another family relation you cannot marry, then you would be mistaken; first cousin marriages are allowed in Massachusetts.
Living husband or wife
You can't get married if you're already married. Your former marriage must end in divorce or annulment before remarrying.
A polygamous marriage may sidestep voiding if you or your spouse entered into the latter marriage with a good faith belief that the former marriage didn't exist, was dissolved, or the spouse had died. If cohabitation continues and the former marriage eventually ends in divorce, annulment, or death, the latter marriage will be deemed legitimate.
The following solemnizing officials, also referred to as officiants, must be commonwealth residents who are registered with the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, although the Secretary of the Commonwealth may authorize any such nonresident to perform marriages.
Your marriage may be solemnized by a commonwealth city or town clerk or assistant clerk, court clerk or assistant clerk, or general assembly clerk or assistant clerk.
Justices of the peace
Your marriage may be solemnized by a justice of the peace who has been designated by the Governor and certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Your marriage may be solemnized by a commonwealth resident who's an ordained minister of the gospel and whose relationship with their church or denomination is continual and in good standing; ordained deacon of either the Methodist or Roman Catholic Church; rabbi or appointed cantor of the Jewish religion; Buddhist priest or minister; or imam.
Nonresident ministers of the gospel, including deacons, may solemnize as long as the church or denomination he serves exists in the commonwealth.
Your marriage may be solemnized under the norms of a religious society, such as the Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. The clerk or keeper of the records typically conducts the marriage during a Quaker Monthly Meeting. It may also be solemnized by an authorized representative or secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís.
Your marriage may be solemnized by a minister associated with the Unitarian Universalist Association who is ordained by a church of the commonwealth or an American Ethical Union appointed leader of an Ethical Culture Society that's based in the commonwealth.
The performing of, conducting of, or presiding over of your marriage is called solemnization. Only certain authorized officials are permitted to carry out this role.
Quick reminder: the marriage license and certificate of marriage is the same document.
The solemnizing official cannot proceed with the ceremony without an unexpired certificate of marriage available, if a known and unresolved impediment exists, or suspects either of you to be underage and ineligible to marry due to unfulfilled parental and judicial consent requirements. Doing otherwise will open him or her up to fine of up to $500.
Witnesses are not required to attend your ceremony. Your certificate of marriage will not have a spot to accept the name or signature of any witness.
Endorsing the certificate
The solemnizing official must complete/endorse/certify the blank "solemnization" portion on the certificate of marriage by documenting when and where the marriage took place, and his or her name, official title, and residence.
Returning the certificate
Following your ceremony, the solemnizing official must return the completed certificate of marriage to the city or town clerk that issued it no later than the tenth day of the following month so that it may be recorded.
Maintaining a backup record
The solemnizing official is required by law to maintain a personal or organizational record of solemnizations performed.
If the original recorded certificate of marriage is ever lost or destroyed, and no certified copy exists, then the solemnizing official's internal record of the marriage celebration may be used to reconstruct and reestablish the marriage's existence.
Solemnization by unauthorized person
If your marriage is solemnized by someone who did not have the authority or jurisdiction to do so, it would not invalidate your marriage if either you or your spouse believed that it was lawfully carried out at the time. However, the unauthorized official will be penalized with a maximum fine of $500, up to one year of jail time, or both.
Once your completed certificate of marriage has been returned to the city or town clerk that issued it, it will be officially recorded and acknowledged by the commonwealth.
After your marriage is on the books, a certified copy of your marriage certificate (a.k.a. certificate of marriage) will be available. This document proves that your marriage has been recorded, and will be accepted in all courts and institutions as prima facie evidence of the existence of your marriage.
Name change after marriage
A certified copy of your marriage certificate must be acquired if you intend to legally change your name because of marriage. This legal document proves you are married and will be used to facilitate name changes with the Social Security Administration, Registry of Motor Vehicles, passport issuance and renewal office, and other government and non-government institutions.
Be sure to specify your preferred last name after marriage on the application, or else you may have trouble changing it after you're married.
Marriage outside the commonwealth
If you're a resident of Massachusetts who gets married in another state, territory, country, or jurisdiction, where that marriage could not have legally taken place here due to prohibitions or other restrictions, it would be disregarded and void in this commonwealth.
Registering your foreign marriage
If you were a Massachusetts resident when your non-commonwealth marriage took place and you still reside in the United States, you can optionally have your marriage registered/recorded here by presenting your city or town clerk the original, certified copy, or photocopy of your marriage certificate, or a declaration or written statement providing proof of your marriage's existence.
If the clerk is not satisfied with the veracity of your evidence and refuses to file a record of your marriage, you can petition a probate judge located in the county of the clerk's office to compel them to act. There will be a hearing where all sides, including the clerk, may make their case.