Before you can enter into marriage—which is a civil contract—you must apply for a Missouri marriage license from the county-level recorder of deeds office. The person in charge of processing your marriage license application is, aptly named, the recorder of deeds.
Application vs. license vs. certificate
There's a great deal of confusion for first-time applicants trying to distinguish between the marriage license application, marriage license, and marriage certificate. Let's untangle these documents:
Application generates license
You'll fill out your personal information onto an application. The recorder of deeds will copy over a portion of what you entered onto a blank license form. The application will be archived in office, and a copy of its contents transmitted to the state's vital records department.
License and certificate conjoined
At the bottom of the license will be a blank section titled marriage certificate, which is to be filled out by your officiant after you're married. The license and certificate is one document: license at the top, certificate at the bottom.
Once your officiant returns the license to the recorder for recording, it will hold multiple interchangeable titles: marriage certificate, certified marriage certificate, certificate of marriage, recorded marriage license, certified marriage license, or marriage record.
These all mean the same thing: a marriage license that's been recorded by the recorder. The license stays the same; it's just the title that switches, or spawns multiple designations.
It will take approximately half an hour to process your application, so schedule accordingly.
Here's a list of personal details you'll be asked to provide on your application:
- Name (first, middle, last)
- Maiden name or birth surname (if different from current)
- Current age
- Date of birth (month, day, year)
- Place of birth (state or country)
- Place of residence (city/town, state, zip, county; or city and country)
- Number of previous marriages
- Last marriage ended by (e.g., divorce, dissolution, annulment, death)
- Last marriage end date (month, year)
- Last education level completed (e.g., high school, college, some college) (optional)
- Race (e.g., White, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, other [specify]) (optional)
- Social security number (if available)
Everything you disclose will be transmitted to the state department of health & senior services vital records division.
Social security number
If you don't have a social security number, you will have to declare that in a signed statement provided by the recorder.
Although your social security number will be provided to the state's vital records division, it will be separated and exempt from the public record. This means it cannot be copied or inspected by members of the general public.
Absentee application affidavit
While most couples tend to apply together, there are circumstances where one is unable to attend the making of the application. This is when the state allows one party to the prospective marriage to apply absentee, but only certain persons are eligible.
You are eligible to apply absentee if you are at least 18 years old, and incarcerated, on active military duty, or diagnosed with a disability that qualifies under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you're the absent applicant, instead of filling out the regular application, you must fill out a special "affidavit of absent applicant and application," or "absentee application" for short.
Give your completed absentee application to your prospective spouse, who must still go in person to fill out his or her own regular application. Your half of their application will be left blank, as your absentee application will take its place.
The absentee application is, more a less, a reproduction of the regular application. It asks the same questions, but includes a few extra mandatory questions, including:
- Your prospective spouse's full name (first, middle, last)
- If incarcerated, where at
- If on active military duty, where at
- If diagnosed with a disability, attest to that by marking a checkbox
Your absentee application must be signed in the presence of a notary public, who must apply their sign and signature.
Attached to each absentee application is an affidavit verification form that must be filled out by a third-party who verifies your absentee status. This portion does not have to be presented to the notary public.
If you're incarcerated, the warden, sheriff, or official designee of the prison or jail must attest to your incarceration status and the accuracy of the information provided on your absentee application.
Verify military duty
If you're on active military duty, your commanding officer or their designee must certify your active status.
If you've been diagnosed with a serious disability that would qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you must get a doctor or other qualified medical official to confirm your disability. Qualified medical officials include, but are not limited to, physicians, nurses, chiropractors, physical or occupational therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and clinical social workers.
There are no residency requirements. You can apply in any county and marry in any county.
In Missouri, marriage-related fees are established on the county level; however, the state does mandate a minimum baseline for the main license fee. All fees are nonrefundable.
In Missouri, the cost of a marriage license varies from county to county; however, about three-quarters of the counties charge $51, with $46 at the low end and $60 at the high end.
License fee allocation
Out of every marriage license transaction, $15 is remitted to the state's department of revenue to subsidize the children's trust fund, and $5 is remitted to the county treasurer to fund domestic violence and shelter programs.
The following is a typical breakdown of the most common license fee, which is $51.
|61%||$31||Retained by the recorder of deeds office|
|29%||$15||Children's trust fund|
|10%||$5||Domestic violence programs|
Certificate copy fee
The cost to obtain a copy of your marriage certificate is not uniform across the state. It typically costs $1 for a photocopy and $9 for a certified copy, of which $7 goes to the state's children's trust fund.
Keep in mind, your certificate will not be available until after you are married and the license has been returned to the recorder for recording.
Consent form fee
Although blank parental consent forms can be picked up for free, some offices may charge an extra fee—about one dollar—to process this submitted document.
Rules of marriage are broken into the following three age brackets:
18 and older
If you're 18 years old, or older, you can marry without having to obtain consent from your parent or guardian.
15 to 17
If you're 15 to 17 years old, you must obtain consent to marry from one parent or guardian.
14 and younger
If you're 14 years old, or younger, you must obtain permission to marry from the circuit court.
Granting consent to marry
The terms "parent" and "parental" should be taken to reference custodial parent or guardian.
The recorder's office furnishes blank parental consent forms. Your parent must supply their name, place of residence, signature, and declaration of consent on the form.
Proving authority to grant consent
Bring the original or certified copy of your birth certificate to confirm the name on the consent form matches what's on your certificate.
If your parents are divorced, provide the recorder a certified copy of the divorce decree to prove the consenting parent is the custodial parent. If you have a guardian, provide the guardianship papers.
Acceptable methods of consent
Your parent can grant consent in person or in writing. Either method uses the same consent form, which should not be signed until in the presence of the recorder or notary public.
Granting consent in person
If your parent wishes to accompany you to the making of the application, they can fill out the consent form in the presence of the recorder, who will have them swear an oath.
Granting written consent
If your parent is unable or unwilling to provide consent in person, you must pick up a blank consent form to be completed and notarized in advance.
Circuit court permission
If you're required to obtain permission to marry from the circuit court, then the request must be made in the same county where the application is going to be submitted. You will be heard by a circuit judge or associate circuit judge.
If the judge finds good cause for you to marry, a written order will be approved to compel the recorder issue a license.
You must bring unexpired, government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license, state-issued ID card, military ID card, or passport.
Extra ID for minors
If you're below the age of 18, bring a certified copy of your birth certificate. If your custodial parent or guardian intends to grant in person consent for you to marry, they too must bring valid photo ID.
There is no waiting period to receive or use your issued marriage license. There used to be a three-day wait time before issuance, but that requirement hasn't been in effect since August 28, 2007.
Your marriage license will expire 30 days from the date of issuance.
If your license will not or cannot be used, the recorder should be made aware of that fact.
If your license expires, it should be returned to the office that issued it. If returning it in office, you may be asked to sign an affidavit. If returning by mail, a note containing your signature would be appreciated.
If lost or destroyed
If your license (expired or not) becomes lost or destroyed, the recorder should be notified. If done in person, you may be asked to sign an affidavit or provide a signature.
You will not be granted a refund for an expired, near expiring, lost, or destroyed license. Your time will not be extended. If you still intend to marry, you must reapply and repay.
You are not required to get a blood test or physical exam in order to obtain a marriage license.
If you've been previously married, you'll have to supply the date it ended. If it ended by divorce, provide the date it was finalized. If it ended due to your spouse dying, provide the date of death. You are not obligated to present physical proof, by way of a divorce decree or death certificate.
If you enter into any of the following types of prohibited marriages, it will be void by the state upon discovery.
You cannot marry ascendants or descendants (regardless of degree), siblings (either whole blood or half blood), or anyone else on the following list:
- First cousin
You cannot marry if you have a living husband or wife. If your prior marriage is not dissolved before entering into another, the subsequent marriage will be considered bigamous.
You cannot marry someone who lacks capacity to marry, unless the court that has jurisdiction over the subject authorizes it.
Persons authorized to solemnize marriages fall into two groups: religious and judicial.
Your marriage can be solemnized by any active or retired member of the clergy who remains in good standing with their church or synagogue.
Beyond that, any religious institution, society, or organization can authorize anyone to perform solemnizations, as long as either you or your prospective spouse is a member of that institution, society, or organization.
Any judge can solemnize your marriage, whether they are on the federal, state, or municipal level. Judges are not permitted to charge a fee to solemnize.
The act of presiding over your marriage is called solemnization. Before beginning, you must hand over your marriage license to the person authorized to officiate your marriage. It will be inspected and if the officiant finds no impediment or cause to be suspicious, the ceremony can commence.
Two witnesses—excluding the officiant—must be present at the ceremony and sign the license thereafter. State law doesn't stipulate a minimum age your witnesses must be, but they should be competent enough to satisfy the officiant. They should also be capable of providing testimony that your marriage took place, if its veracity or existence is ever questioned.
Once your ceremony is done, the officiant must immediately endorse the license. This is also referred to as certifying the license. Endorsement entails filling out the bottom certificate portion of the license. It's a brief fill-in-the-blanks exercise that requires the following be supplied:
- Ceremony city and county
- Ceremony date (month, day, year)
- Officiant's name, title, signature, and residence (street, city, state)
The officiant fills out everything except for the witnesses' signatures. Neither you nor your spouse will have anything to complete or sign, as your names will already be visible on the top portion of the license.
Returning the license
Your officiant must return the endorsed/certified license to the recorder who issued it within 15 days after the ceremony takes place, so that it may be recorded.
Once the recorder of deeds receives the endorsed license from your officiant, it will be recorded. Recording entails logging all the information from the license into a marriage record book kept in the office. Records must be properly indexed and cross-referenced with the original archived application.
Transmission to vital records
On a monthly basis, all the information that was submitted on your application as well as everything detailed on the recorded license will be transmitted to the state's vital records division.
The recorder can provide you a photocopy or certified copy of your marriage certificate after it's been recorded.
Possibly free or separate charge
Some offices charge a separate certificate copy fee, while others integrate it into the main license fee. A small minority of offices will even provide it to you for free, as long as you request it within 30 days of its recording.
Some offices will automatically mail out your certificate, while others will call you to let you know it's available for pick up or purchase.
If you plan to change your name after marriage on your social security card with the Social Security Administration, driver's license with the Department of Revenue, or passport with the U.S. Department of State, you'll need to show them a certified copy of your marriage certificate, not a photocopy.
Missouri prohibits proxy marriages. For those not in the know, a proxy marriage is useful when one party to a marriage can't physically be present at the ceremony site, so a stand-in is asked to take the missing person's place and act as their proxy, or middleman/middlewoman.
Interestingly, you can submit an absentee application (which is sort of like applying by proxy), but you can't marry as an absentee.
Common-law marriages are not recognized in Missouri, regardless of where it originated. If a common-law marriage were to be instituted in this state, it would be considered null and void.