In Maryland, marriage licenses are issued at the circuit court by the clerk of the circuit court during regular business hours. These are county-level offices.
A list of every Maryland county, containing circuit court locations therein, is provided at the end of this document, but be aware that there are restrictions on where you can apply based on where your marriage will take place.
Throughout this document, the term clerk will be used as shorthand to refer to the clerk of the circuit court of a county. To lessen redundancy, the term license will occasionally be used to reference marriage license.
Where to apply?
You must get your marriage license from the circuit court in the county where your marriage will take place. This requirement applies to all applicants, regardless of residency.
Only one applicant required
Although both you and your prospective spouse may show up to the circuit court to fill out the application together, state law only requires one of you to be there, in person. If only one of you decides to apply you'll be directed to complete a non-resident application affidavit.
A non-resident application affidavit will always be required if either you or your prospective spouse do not apply in person, even if it's in direct contraction to what's stated in the residency requirements section; absentee status overrides residency status.
Documents you'll receive
If your marriage license application is accepted and approved by the clerk, you'll be issued a bundle of five documents:
- One marriage license
- Two regular marriage certificates
- Two Society of Friends marriage certificates
The marriage license makes it legally permissible for you to marry. Whoever solemnizes your marriage must have the license and certificates to complete the job.
The extra set of "Society of Friends" certificates are for Quakers (or Religious Society of Friends). If this doesn't apply to you, you can ignore those two certificates.
To clarify this point, let's assume you've already chosen the Maryland county you intend to apply in. The next question is, do you live there
Neither are county residents
If neither of you live in the county where you're applying, then you must fill out a non-resident application affidavit.
One or both are county residents
If one or both of you is a resident of the county that you're applying in, then you'll be required to fill out a regular resident application.
The marriage license application is a single form that serves both applicants. It's designed in a non-gender specific format.
Application vs. license
There's a misunderstanding by some who conflate the marriage license application with the issued marriage license: they're not the same document. The application is a form you'll fill out in order to receive a license. In other words, the application gives birth to the license.
Following are the application form fields you'll be expected to answer:
This is your full, current, legal name, including any suffix (e.g., Sr, Jr). The application will not include a space for you to specify a new name you may prefer to take after marriage.
Place of residence
Your place of residence determines if you'll be required to fill out a regular application for county (yes county) residents or a non-resident application for non-county residents.
If this is confusing to you, revisit the residency requirements section for clarification.
If you're a participant in Maryland's Safe at Home (Address Confidentiality Program), you can use your substitute address as your place of residence.
You'll be asked for your age, not date of birth. Your age will determine if any underage marriage restrictions apply to you. Age also may affect how strict the clerk will be when it comes to requiring identification to verify your age.
You'll be asked if you're single, divorced, or widowed.
For every prior marriage that ended in divorce or death of a spouse, you must provide the date the divorce or death occurred and the place it occurred (state and country). If you run out of space to document all your prior marriages, an additional sheet can be attached.
You'll be asked, yes or no, if you and your prospective spouse are blood relations. If you are, specify how. If your relation would result in a prohibited marriage, then you will not be issued a license.
Social security number
If you have a social security number, it may be used to determine if you're delinquent in child support payments. Queries that determine delinquency are typically performed at a later date.
If either you or your prospective spouse is delinquent in child support payments, it will not prevent you from getting a marriage license. If delinquency is discover after you are married, it will not void or negatively affect the status of your marriage.
Child support delinquency enforcement is powered by the Child Support and Establishment of Paternity provision of Social Security Act Title IV-D. The Maryland Department of Human Resources' Child Support Enforcement Administration is responsible for enforcing this provision.
Although marriage license applications are public records, the social security number will not be disclosed as part of that record.
Your phone number is solicited in case the clerk ever needs to contact you about a problem related to your application, license, or certificate.
Only one of you is required to sign, as only one of you is required to apply for the marriage license. If both are present, you can both sign. Do not sign the application until you're in the presence of the clerk or equivalent official (assuming you're completing the application outside of the circuit court).
The application will ask you how you'd like your marriage license delivered: held in reserve for you to pick up, or mailed to an address you designate.
If this is your first time applying for a Maryland marriage license, this may catch you off guard. It becomes clear when you understand that this state has a mandatory waiting period between the time you submit your application and when you can use your license.
This differential is part of the reason why the application will ask you to specify delivery instructions, so that you can avoid making two trips to the circuit court: one to apply, the other to pick up.
It's possible for you to assign a third-party to pick up your license. You or your future spouse can grant the authorization, but it must be done in writing. The application won't likely provide an obvious space to specify this, so you'll have to wedge in mention of this near the delivery instructions part of the form, or attach an addendum.
Potential delivery problems
If you or your prospective spouse is younger than 18 years old, some circuit courts may be unwilling to mail out a license. In those instances, they'll require you to pick it up in person and bring along documentation (e.g., birth certificate, guardianship order) to prove the consenting parent or guardian is legitimate.
Non-resident application affidavit
If neither you nor your prospective spouse is a resident of the county where you're applying in, you must use a non-resident marriage license application affidavit (NRMLA) instead of the regular application. The questions asked of both forms are the same.
One key difference between the regular application and the non-resident application is that you can mail the latter to the circuit court.
If you're going to be filling out this form in the presence of the clerk, the remainder of this section doesn't apply to you; feel free to skip ahead to the identification section.
If you're going to be mailing in your application, the remainder of this section will cover how to properly execute the application to the satisfaction of the receiving clerk.
Get the circuit court address
If you don't already know which circuit court you must mail your application to, consult the list of counties at the bottom of the page. Make note of the mailing address of your chosen circuit court.
You must include payment with your mailed in application or else it won't be processed. As discussed in the fees section, the price of a license varies from county to county. Find your county then jot down the fee.
Included payment must be a money order or certified check (no personal checks) made payable to Clerk of Circuit Court.
Complete the consent form
If you're an underage applicant, make the sure the parental consent form is filled out, notarized, and attached to your application.
Execute the application
You'll have to find an official in your state, province, or country that's equivalent to a Maryland circuit court clerk to execute the application.
Examples of "equivalent officials" is anyone who's tasked with issuing marriage licenses, such as county clerks, recorder of deeds, or court clerks.
A notary public does not quality as an equivalent official.
Equivalent official's role
The equivalent official must witness you sign the application, so don't sign it until you're in their presence. Afterward, request that they fill out the bottom portion of the non-resident application with their name, office or court name, office or court address, current date and time, signature, and official seal or stamp.
Once this is done, your application has been successfully executed.
Mail the application
Bundle your application, payment, and consent form (if applicable). Before putting your documents in the envelope make sure your application includes your phone number in case the clerk needs to contact you about a problem processing your application. Also be sure to specify your preferred delivery option.
If everything looks good to you, mail out your packet to the circuit court. Consider adding delivery confirmation to your mailing so that you can track its whereabouts.
It's a good idea to get your paperwork mailed out a few weeks before your marriage takes place. This will provide enough time for the post office to deliver your mail and for you and the clerk to resolve any problems that may crop up.
Identification is solicited to confirm the age you claim to be on your application. A certified copy of a birth certificate is sufficient proof. That or a government or state-issued ID containing your date of birth will work. For instance, a driver's license or passport will work nicely.
Insufficient or no ID
State law doesn't mandate any particular form of ID be presented, or any ID be shown at all. It's up to the clerk to use their best judgment about what forms of ID are ok and if they'll absolutely require it. For instance, if you don't have ID but the clerk sizes you up and think you look old enough to marry, they have the authority to issue you a license even if no proof of age is presented.
The cost of a Maryland marriage license ranges from $35 (at the low end) to $85 (at the high end). The most common fee is $35.
Why fees vary?
The minimum fee that each county may charge for a license is $10. That money is split evenly between the circuit court and the county's general fund.
The state allows every county to charge up to $25 extra on top of the base $10 (which every county does). The $25 portion goes to fund domestic violence programs.
Some counties are allowed to charge much higher prices. The state sets a maximum limit, and each county can decide how high they want to rise up the scale.
This is why there's no price consistency across the state. The counties list at the end of the page will provide links to each county where the exact fees can be found.
Course discount fee
If you're interesting in saving some money off your license fee, you can take a state-recognized premarital preparation course. The potential savings vary per county.
Replacement license fee
If you lose your license before it expires, you can get it replaced for $10. This entire amount is remitted to the state's general fund. This replacement fee is the same statewide.
You may receive your marriage license the same day you apply for it; however, you cannot use your license until two days after it's been issued. This bears repeating: you may receive your license on the day your application is made or received, but not necessarily will receive it.
The state gives each circuit court the option of issuing marriage licenses the same day it's applied for, as long as the date it becomes effective is clearly marked on the license.
This gap in time is what makes the option to deliver your license an attractive choice; delivery prevents you from making an unnecessary follow-up trip.
The effective date of your issued license is the date and time that it becomes usable. It will not become effective until two calendar days after issuance, at 6 a.m. EST. For example, if you are issued a license on Friday at 4 p.m. you won't be able to use it to get married until Sunday at 6 a.m., at the earliest.
Effective date waiver
If the two day effective date is unacceptable for your situation, you can seek a waiver from a judge of the circuit court. In order to get a waiver either of you must be:
- a Maryland resident; or
- a member of the U.S. Armed Forces
Meeting one of these two requirements is a precondition for getting a waiver. The final step is to demonstrate good cause to the judge for why he should issue a waiver. Examples would be if the wait time would impose an undue hardship, or you or your prospective spouse will be unavailable to marry in two days time.
If the judge agrees with your plea, a written authorization will be provided to move up the effective date to an earlier date and time: most likely, immediately.
Your marriage license will expire 6 months after the day it becomes effective. If you don't get married within that time period, it will be void and unusable. You will not be refunded for an expired license.
If the six month expiration goes by and the clerk has not received your completed marriage certificate, they will attempt to follow-up to determine if you did get married and who presided over your marriage.
This follow-up is a precautionary measure to make sure all Maryland marriages are properly accounted for and recorded.
If you're 18 years old or older, then you don't need anyone's consent to marry. If you're below this age, read on to learn about consent requirements and when a judge must get involved.
16 or 17 years old
If you're 16 or 17 years old, you cannot marry unless you get the consent of one parent or guardian.
Pregnant or given birth
If you're pregnant or have given birth to a child (living or dead), then parental consent to marry is not required. Proof of pregnancy or childbirth must be shown in the form of a certificate that is provided by a licensed physician, licensed physician assistance (e.g., PA, PA-C, APA-C, RPA or RPA-C), or certified nurse practitioner. Certificates signed by a midwife or nurse practitioner will not be accepted.
15 years old
If you're 15 years old, the consent of a parent or guardian is a mandatory and inescapable requirement. Consent alone isn't sufficient; you must also be pregnant or have given birth to a child.
Proof of pregnancy or prior child birth must be certified in writing by a licensed physician, licensed physician assistant, or certified nurse practitioner. This pregnancy/childbirth verification standard is basically the same as the prior 16–17 age group.
14 years old and younger
If you're 14 years old or younger, you cannot marry.
Consent of a parent or guardian can be given in person or in writing.
In person consent
Consent can be given in person before the clerk. If given in person, an oath must be made where the parent or guardian swears that they're authorized to grant consent and that the underage applicant's stated age is true.
If consent is to be given in writing, grab a blank consent form the circuit court where the application is to be made. Fill it out and have it notarized. Provide the completed written consent form to the applicant so that it may be passed onto the clerk.
If anyone violates any aspect of these age or consent requirements, they will be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a maximum fine of $250. This includes the minor, a parent or guardian, another adult applicant, physician, and even the clerk.
Premarital preparation course
If you're willing to enroll in a premarital preparation course taught by a registered course provider, you may be eligible to receive a discount off your marriage license fee. The discount amount is variable and is set by the county's governing body.
Course providers are required to cover the following topics in their lesson plan:
- Conflict management
- Improving communication skills
- Financial responsibilities
- Parenting and children
The entire course must last a minimum of four hours. You and your prospective spouse must attend together.
If someone wants to teach a course, they must be registered with the clerk in the county where they plan to teach; registration weeds out yahoos and fakers.
The state will only permit certain types of professionals to participate in the course program:
- Licensed clinical professional counselor
- Licensed marriage and family therapist
- Licensed social worker
- Official designee of a religious institution who's trained in the subject matter
- Any qualified individual approved by the county's governing body
Course providers must prove their bona fides to the satisfaction of the clerk. They must provide their name, place of residence, phone number, a summation of their qualifications and training, and a declaration that they'll execute the lessons and course requirements mandated by law.
The clerk may maintain a list of registered course providers for you to choose from. They're typically specific to that county; although, you can attend a course that's taught by a provider that's based in another county.
If your course provider charges a fee, you'll be responsible for paying it. If your clerk has a list of providers available, each name will typically be accompanied by their stated fees; some operate on a sliding scale, while others are free of charge.
Certificate of completion
Once you and your prospective spouse finish the course, your provider will issue you one certificate of completion. It'll contain your names, the provider's name, and date of completion.
Once you successfully complete a premarital preparation course, you must use your certificate of completion within a year in order to receive any potential discount off the license fee.
In Maryland, you cannot marry any of the following family members:
Stepparents are considered to be in a slightly different class, which is why it's excluded from this list and included in the upcoming second tier.
Tier one penalty
If such a prohibited marriage were to take place it would be void. Violators will be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of $1,500 upon conviction.
Going further, you cannot marry the remaining type of family members:
Even though the illegality of bigamy should preclude the following marriage types, state law has saw fit to make mention of the following additional prohibited marriage types:
- Child's spouse
- Grandchild's spouse
- Grandparent's spouse
- Spouse's child
- Spouse's parent
- Spouse's grandparent
- Spouse's grandchild
Of course, if you're single, you can marry any of the immediate above persons, as long as they're unmarried too.
Tier two penalty
Any person who enters into a forbidden marriage, documented in this subsection, will be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of $500. Unlike tier one's set of prohibited marriage types, marrying your aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew won't result in an automatic voiding of your marriage.
What about cousins?
You may have noticed that cousins haven't been mentioned thus far. That's because cousin marriages are legal, including first cousins.
You don't have to get a blood test in order to get a marriage license.
Family planning material
Although blood tests aren't performed, the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) does require clerks provide you information about birth control. A list of family planning clinics that are located in the same county as the circuit court will also be provided to you.
Solemnization means presiding over a marriage, solemnizing a marriage, or the officiating of a marriage.
The person who performs solemnization is often called the officiant. State law designates certain officials who can solemnize and certain organizations that have the authority to authorize a person to solemnize.
The following types of judges can solemnize: circuit court, district court, appeals court, court of special appeals, federal district court, federal court of appeals, and federal tax court.
Any other state-level judge that hasn't been mentioned can solemnize whether they're active or retired as long as they're eligible to be recalled.
The clerk of the circuit court can solemnize, which is the person you'll likely face if you opt to apply for your license in person. Their deputy clerk may be able to solemnize as long as they've been authorized to do so by the county administrative judge of the circuit court.
The circuit court's county administrative judge is also responsible for determining when and where clerks and deputy clerks can solemnize. The procedure and script that must be recited during solemnization is also drafted by the judge. As these would be civil ceremonies, the language used will likely be workmanlike and secular in nature.
Any person who's been designated as an authorized official by any religious organization can solemnize. The rites, customs, and procedures of how a marriage ceremony should be carried out are totally up to said religious organization to decide. The state does not regulate such practices as they do with judges and clerks.
Self-solemnization, which is when a couple forgoes the use of an officiant and solemnizes their marriage themselves, is not allowed in Maryland. It's just being mentioned here for those that are curious and to cover all bases.
Whoever solemnizes your marriage must follow certain state laws, lest they be held criminally liable and subject to a financial penalty.
Nonexistent or expired license
Any official worth their salt knows that a marriage cannot be performed if there is no license or the license is expired. Such a marriage will be voided as soon the marriage certificate is returned to the clerk for recording. The person who solemnized would also guarantee themselves a misdemeanor charge and $500 fine if they're convicted.
If anyone claims to be authorized to solemnize marriages, but is not, they will be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a $500 fine upon conviction.
If you have the unfortunate luck to be married by a fraud, it would not invalidate your marriage as long as either you or your spouse believed the officiant to be legitimate at the time; the state wouldn't punish you just because you were married by an imposter.
Performing prohibited marriages
A person who knowingly solemnizes a prohibited marriages will be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a find of $500 fine upon conviction.
A civil ceremony that is conducted by a judge, clerk, or deputy clerk costs $30 in Cecil County and $25 in every other county. You'll pay this fee to the clerk.
A portion of the ceremony fee ($10) is remitted to the county's general fund. Some counties have permission by the state to allocate the remainder of the money to other state or county level funds or trusts.
Grifting and punishment
Judges, clerks, and deputies don't be paid (directly) for performing ceremonies. They can't pocket a portion of the money, nor accept gifts or tips for solemnizing. If such a violation were committed by a clerk or deputy clerk there it would not result in a misdemeanor charge or paltry fine; the penalty would be far more catastrophic: removal from office.
Where the marriage license gives you permission to marry, the marriage certificate proves that you are married. The certificate is necessary if you plan to change your name after marriage.
Documenting the certificate
As you may recall, when you apply for a marriage license you'll receive a license and certificates as a bundle. Two out of the four certificates is for a typical marriage conducted by an officiant. The other two certificates are meant for a Society of Friends (Quaker) marriage.
Regular, officiated marriage
Both certificates must be filled out by whoever solemnizes your marriage once the ceremony has concluded. One certificate will be given to you, the other must be returned to the clerk who issued the license and certificates no later than five days following the ceremony.
Society of Friends marriage
If you're having a Society of Friends marriage, you and your spouse must fill out and sign both certificates and have it attested to by two overseers to the ceremony. You can keep one certificate, but the other certificate must be sent back to the clerk that issued the license and certificates within five days after the ceremony.
What happens to the license?
The law doesn't say what happens to the marriage license once you're married. The clerk doesn't need it back. That information has already been logged by the clerk. You can keep the license or throw it away.
Ordering certified copies
If you need certified copies of your marriage certificate, you can order them from the circuit court that issued you your license.
Recording your marriage ceremony is the final step in the marriage license journey. Once your ceremony is over, one of the marriage certificates must be returned to the clerk for recording.
A recorded marriage certificate proves to the state that you are married. Failure to record will result in your official marital status being in a state of limbo. Non-recording also makes it impossible to later order certified copies of your marriage certificate.
If the clerk doesn't receive your marriage certificate by the time your marriage license expires, they will assume that you were married but there was a failure to deliver your certificate. Perhaps someone forgot to mail your certificate back to the clerk; perhaps your officiant died before it could be dispatched; perhaps it got lost in the mail or shredded in the mail sorter; or perhaps you called off the marriage.
Whatever the reason, the clerk assumes the worst and must (by law) investigate what happened in order to make sure all valid marriages are accounted for by the state. As detailed in the expiration and follow-up the clerk will try to contact you to determine if your marriage took place so that it can be properly recorded by the state.
In Maryland, you can optionally change your name after marriage without having to court to court. You can take your spouse's name, replace your middle name with your maiden or birth name, or you can hyphenate surnames.
The original marriage certificate you received after your marriage ceremony concluded is the document you'll need to bring when changing your name with the Social Security Administration (SSA), Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), and U.S. Department of state (for your passport).
Maryland's marriage license procedures are certainly more complicated than most other states. You have to apply where you'll marry and there are different forms depending on where you live. With any luck, this documented has sufficiently equipped you to tackle the marriage application process with grace and finesse.
If you know where you need to go next, head on over to the county list to get locations, county-specific fees, and other office details, such as phone numbers, office hours, and acceptable payment methods. Best of luck to you and your future married life.