The procedure for procuring a civil union license is effectively the same as a marriage license, down to the application and fees. Any divergence between the two will be noted within this document.
It's worth reiterating, licenses are issued on the municipal level and not the county level.
Cities, towns, boroughs, townships, and villages typically have registrars who also serve as clerks. These officials, including their designated deputy and alternative deputies, are the licensing officers.
Deputies, who serve at the pleasure of their clerk, have full licensing and recording authority, including the authority to administer oaths.
Generally speaking, most city clerks, town clerks, township clerks, and so on, also serve as local registrars, regardless of which title is more prominently publicized. So don't let the existence of one over the other confuse you.
Believe it or not, you must bring one adult—aged 18 or above—identifying witness with you to the making of the application who must declare in writing that the facts stated in the application are true, to the best of his or her knowledge. It's okay if the witness is a family member.
Some local registrars may suggest that your witness should know you for at least six months, but state law doesn't actually advocate or mandate this.
False claims and perjury
Any person—including you, a proxy/attorney-in-fact, or the witness—who knowingly provides false information on the application or to the licensing officer is guilty of perjury and will be reported by the licensing officer who administered the oaths for potential prosecution.
A perjury conviction carries a maximum fine of $7,500.
Opting to apply separately
Although most couples apply for a license together, you have the option of applying separately. The waiting period initiates with whoever submits first.
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The fee for issuing a marriage or civil union license is $28 throughout every city, town, borough, township, or village in the State of New Jersey. Payment must be made when you submit your application and not when you return to pick it up. The fee is nonrefundable.
Domestic violence funding
Out of every license purchased, the local registrar's office keeps $3 and sends the remaining $25 to the Department of Human Services to fund domestic violence programs and shelters.
If one or both of you are residents of the state, you must obtain your license from the local registrar of either's residence. Afterward, your marriage or civil union ceremony can take place anywhere in the state.
Note: residents must present proof of residency.
If both of you are nonresidents of the state, obtain your license from the local registrar located in the municipality where the marriage or civil union will take place. You must get married in that municipality.
You must bring government-issued identification, such as a driver's license, state-issued ID card, military ID card, or passport. Proof of residency is required for New Jersey residents.
Bringing a certified copy of your birth certificate would be helpful to verify your parents' information, but is not required.
Note: foreign, non-English identification requires translation before acceptance.
The marriage license and civil union license application is designed by the State Registrar within the New Jersey Department of Health. The application is a two-page document that's used for a marriage or civil union as well as remarriage or the reaffirmation of a civil union.
If you prefer to fill out the application in advance, wait to fill in page two's signature and date fields until you're in the presence of the local registrar and under oath.
The underlying purpose of the application's questions is to determine if any legal impediment to your expected marriage or civil union exists.
Oaths and issuance
Everyone who participates in the making of the application—you, your prospective spouse or an attorney-in-fact, and identifying witness—must swear or affirm, under penalty of perjury, that the information you've provided on the application is accurate. The requisite signatures make it official.
If the licensing officer believes no legal impediment to your marriage or civil union exists, he or she will administer oaths to all participants and subsequently file and schedule the license to be issued.
Valid for six months
Your application will remain valid and held in reserve for six months after submission, unless you get prior approval from the local registrar to extend it to one year.
This time allowance can be taken advantage of if you want to apply well in advance of your ceremony date or if you're applying separately. This is not to be confused with the far shorter expiration period, which begins after you receive your license, following the waiting period.
The following is a breakdown of all the questions that will be asked of you on the marriage/civil union application.
You'll obviously choose what you're applying for: marriage, civil union, remarriage, or reaffirmation of civil union.
Specify your full birth name as well as your current legal name, if different. Do not specify a new name (middle or surname) you intend to change to after marriage.
Specify the full address of your current residence, including county. Residency must be corroborated with identification.
Specify your birthplace, current age, and date of birth. If you're a minor, review the age requirements regarding parental consent.
You must disclose the number of times you've been married or in a civil union, the birth name of your last spouse or civil union partner, and your current domestic status: single, divorced, widowed, annulled, or in a current or former civil union or domestic partnership. Also come equipped with pertinent dates and places.
Specify your parents' names at birth and birthplaces (state or country is sufficient). This is to be answered by all applicants—for genealogical purposes—and is unrelated to the parental consent form.
The application specifically asks you to specify your sex—male or female—and not gender, so interpret that as you will. Besides, the remainder of the application is wholly gender-neutral by referring to applicants as "Applicant A" and "Applicant B" and parents as "Parent" and "Parent."
Relation to applicant
If you're related to the other applicant, briefly specify how. Be cognizant of prohibited family relationships when you answer this question.
Remarriage and reaffirmation
If you're looking to remarry or reaffirm your civil union, indicate the date and place where the original ceremony was held, and bring proof.
If known, either of you can specify the following about your ceremony: event date, municipality where it will be held, name and mailing address of who will perform it, and telephone number and mailing address where either may be reached afterward.
Social security number
Your social security number is solicited for child support enforcement purposes. It will be kept confidential—it's not susceptible to NJ's Right to Know laws—and will not become part of the public record.
You don't need to bring your social security card—just know your number.
Identifying witness declaration
As discussed at the outset, you must bring one identifying witness to vouch for you. Your witness must document their name and address, and confirm your and the other applicant's names, addresses, and whether they've been made aware of any legal impediment to your marriage or civil union and, if so, an explanation of the obstruction.
Some local registrars may require your witness to present proof of residence.
Signatures and dates
Signatures and dates are solicited right before you're administered the oath. If you choose to fill out the application in advance, which is an efficient way to save time, do not sign nor date it until you're in the presence of the licensing officer.
The earliest your marriage or civil union license will be issued to you is 72 hours after your application is submitted.
If you're applying separately, the 72-hour countdown begins with whoever submits their portion of the application first.
Be mindful of offices' limited business hours, lunch breaks, license-only hours, unexpected weekday closures, and appointment-only requirements. By and large, smaller population municipalities have stingier hours. Consult the list of municipalities for specific hours of operation and special conditions.
You can request a Superior Court judge waive all or part of the 72-hour waiting period if you can prove an emergency exists. You must obtain your waiver before you apply for a license.
Remarriage and reaffirmation excluded
The 72-hour waiting period is automatically waived for a remarriage or civil union reaffirmation license.
Issued license and certificate
Once your submitted application is fully completed and the waiting period has passed or been waived, the licensing officer will issue you a marriage or civil union license—in quadruplicate—which will also include a certificate of marriage or civil union.
The four certificate copies are not carbon copies, as you'd experience with a checkbook or receipt book; they are separate copies that must be completed one-by-one by your officiant and circulated to the appropriate parties.
Your marriage or civil union license will expire 30 days after it's been issued.
You do not have to get a blood test or physical exam in order to receive a marriage or civil union license.
The licensing officer is obligated to provide you information and testing locations for genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle-cell anemia (SCA), or beta thalassemia, a.k.a. Cooley's anemia.
In New Jersey, the age of majority is 18 years, which is the dividing line between needing and not needing parental consent before entering into a marriage or civil union.
Under 18 years old
If you're below the age of 18, you must obtain written consent to marry or enter into a civil union from both of your parents or a guardian. If you're 17, this is all you'll need.
Under 16 years old
If you're below the age of 16, your parents' or guardian's marital/civil union consent must be approved by a judge of the Superior Court: specifically, the court's Chancery Division, Family Part.
There is no absolute minimum age to marry or enter into a civil union in New Jersey.
Who grants consent?
If you're underage, the parent(s) or guardian who must grant consent for you to marry or become part of a civil union is determined exclusively by custody status. Go down the following list of six possibilities and stop at whichever matches your situation first:
If you have a court-appointed legal guardian, regardless of your age, he or she must grant consent for you (the ward) to marry or enter into a civil union.
Parents (still together)
If both your parents are alive, still together, and share custody of you, both must grant consent for you to marry or enter into a civil union.
Parents (separated or divorced)
If both your parents are alive, but separated or divorced, the custodial parent must grant consent for you to marry or enter into a civil union. If your parents have equal custody, then the approval of both is required.
One living parent
If you have only one living parent, who's also your custodial parent, his or her consent for you to marry or enter into a civil union is sufficient. When filling out the consent form, your parent must declare your other parent deceased.
No parent or guardian
If you have no parent or guardian, you don't need consent from anyone to get married or take part in a civil union. However, the local registrar may require you to submit an affidavit stating that you have no parent or appointed guardian.
Mentally incapacitated parent or guardian
If the parent or guardian who would normally grant consent for you to marry or join in a civil union is mentally incapacitated, their consent is not required. Be prepared to present evidence of this assertion.
As with the marriage/civil union application, NJ's Department of Health provides a universal parent/guardian consent form to all local registrars. It's bilingual, written in English and Spanish, and can be picked up in any registrar's office. It must be filled out completely in black or blue ink.
The completed consent form will be forwarded to the State Registrar by the tenth day of the calendar month, as will your eventually recorded certificate of marriage or civil union.
Parents' or guardian's signatures
When filling out the consent form, your parent(s) or guardian must provide your full legal name and date of birth, their relationship to you (e.g., son, daughter, ward), and their address and signature.
Two adults—aged 18 or older—must witness your parent(s) or guardian sign the consent form. Afterward, they too must sign, date, and specify their place of residence on the consent form.
Their signatures is an attestation that they're acquainted with whomever's granting consent and have observed the consent being granted.
Prior marriage or partnership
Proof of a prior marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership ending must be presented by way of a divorce decree, civil union dissolution, or domestic partnership termination.
Note: certificates, or equivalent documents, not written in English must be translated into English.
Remarriage and reaffirmation proof
If you're applying for a remarriage or reaffirmation of civil union license, bring a certified copy of your marriage or civil union certificate.
Prohibited marriages and unions
The following prohibitions apply to both marriages and civil unions:
Although you are allowed to marry or enter into a civil union with your first cousin, you are not permitted to do so with any of the other following members of your family, whether the relationship is of the whole or half blood:
A marriage or civil union established with any of the previous mentioned kin would be absolutely void.
You will not be issued a marriage license if you've been judged to be mentally incompetent or incapacitated at the time you put forward an application. This includes incapacitation resulting from alcohol or drug use.
Living spouse or partner
If you have a living husband, wife, civil union partner, or domestic partner, you cannot marry or enter into a civil union until the prior relationship has legally ended.
As it relates to marriage, the subsequent relationship would be considered bigamous and subject to voiding, with exceptions.
Proxy marriage or civil union
If you're a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard who's stationed overseas and serving in a war or conflict, you are permitted to apply by proxy and marry or enter into a civil union by proxy.
Note: only one party to the marriage or civil union is allowed to make use of a proxy.
Appointing a substitute
If you're a service member who's unable to apply in person, you can execute a power of attorney (POA) that authorizes another person (the proxy) to apply on your behalf as your attorney-in-fact. Anyone can serve as your attorney-in-fact: not just a lawyer. Your proxy will also act as your stand-in during the marriage or civil union ceremony.
Composing the power of attorney
The power of attorney must include your name and signature, your prospective spouse's name, the attorney-in-fact's name, and a statement that the attorney-in-fact is only authorized to apply and marry on your behalf. Have the document notarized or witnessed by two officers of the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard.
The power of attorney must be presented to both the licensing officer and the person who will solemnize the ceremony.
Who may solemnize?
The person who performs or solemnizes your marriage or civil union ceremony is often referred to as the officiant or solemnizing official. Following are the persons authorized to solemnize:
A cornucopia of judge types are authorized to solemnize your marriage or civil union ceremony, including:
- U.S. court of appeals judge for the 3rd circuit
- U.S. district court judge
- U.S. magistrate
- Municipal court judge
- Superior court judge
- Tax court judge
- Administrative law judge
- Former county court judge
- Former county district court judge
- Former county juvenile and domestic relations court judge
Your marriage or civil union ceremony may be solemnized by any active county clerk. It may seem counterintuitive to learn that county clerks may solemnize even though they have no licensing authority, yet local registrars who do have licensing authority have no solemnization authority.
Mayors and municipal officials
Your marriage or civil union ceremony may be solemnized by a township committee chairman, village president, mayor, or deputy mayor authorized by the mayor. Former mayors may solemnize as long as they're not serving within the municipality's governing body.
As of May 1, 2014, civil celebrants are eligible to solemnize marriages and civil union ceremonies, although they must be certified by the Secretary of State.
Any member of the clergy of any religious denomination may solemnize your marriage or civil union ceremony
Religious societies (e.g., Quakers, Baha'is), organizations, and institutions are free to solemnize marriages and civil unions using whichever procedure is customary within those institutions, including solemnization through a congregation or self-solemnization amongst the couple.
Solemnization refers to the "performing of" or "presiding over" of your marriage or civil union ceremony. Before the ceremony can begin, you must present your marriage or civil union license to the officiant.
Two witnesses must attend your ceremony and they must affix their names, signatures, and residences to each certificate following the conclusion of the ceremony.
Following the end of the ceremony, the officiant has a simple yet vital responsibility: complete all four copies of the marriage or civil union certificate by documenting when and where (municipality and county) the ceremony was performed, along with his or her name, title, and address.
Both witnesses must also be directed to fill in their names, signatures, and addresses.
Certificates should be written or typewritten in black ink only. Markers or felt tip pens should not be used.
Divvying up the certificates
The officiant must disseminate the four completed certificate copies as follows:
- Two copies returned to the local registrar
- One copy retained by the officiant
- One copy given to the couple
Keep in mind, your copy is more of a keepsake and not a legal document; it's neither registered nor certified, it can't be used to change your name, and it wouldn't be accepted in a court of law as prima facie evidence of the facts therein.
If you need a bona fide certified copy of your marriage or civil union certificate, you'll have to wait until it's been returned by the officiant and recorded by the registrar and available for purchase.
License and certificate return
Within five days after the ceremony, the officiant must return each license and certificate of marriage or civil union copy to the local registrar of the municipality where the marriage occurred or to the clerk of the municipality's county board of health.
For example, if you obtain your license in the City of Newark but the ceremony is held in the Township of Edison, then the return goes to Edison's local registrar who will later reroute it to Newark's local registrar. This roundabout delivery path is explained further in the recording section. By the way, this dual municipality scenario should only occur with state residents.
Intercepted by ceremony registrar
If your marriage or civil union took place in a municipality that's different from the one your license was issued, then it's important the return be made to the local registrar of the ceremony municipality.
Under this scenario, within five days of receiving the license and certificate, the local registrar must copy the ceremony date, place, and couples' names onto a form provided by the State Registrar, and then forward all documents to the original registrar who issued them. That's the registrar who's responsible for the final recording phase.
Most officiants should understand this convoluted return procedure, but those who are less experienced may inadvertently send it to the originating registrar.
Received by original registrar
Once your completed license and certificate of marriage or civil union is finally received by the local registrar who originally issued them, it will be examined for accuracy and completeness, signed, dated, registered, and recorded.
Transmission to state registrar
The local registrar will transmit the original marriage or civil union certificate to the State Registrar by the tenth of the month. A copy will be maintained, locally, within the registrar's office.
If any marriage or civil union is discovered among prohibited family members, it will be reported to the State Registrar.
Certified copy of vital records
After your marriage or civil union has been recorded, you can purchase a certified copy of your marriage record (a.k.a. marriage or civil union certificate) from the local registrar or the state Vital Statistics office, in Trenton.
FYI, certified copies of all vital records types—birth, death, marriage, and civil union—are available for purchase from the registrar.
Name change after marriage
If you plan to change you name after marriage, you must first obtain a certified copy of your marriage or civil union certificate.
Your certified marriage record is a legal document that authorizes the Social Security Administration, Motor Vehicle Commission, passport office, and other government and nongovernment institutions to process your name change request.
Laws against bigamy only apply to marriage and not civil unions. If you married a bigamist, you wouldn't be held liable if you were unaware that you spouse was already married when your marriage took place.
A bigamous marriage is voidable unless one of the following four conditions is met:
Five year absence
You and your prior spouse have been separate for five successive years, during which time you did not know if he or she was alive.
Presumption of death
You had reason to believe your prior spouse was dead.
You believed your prior disqualified marriage had been dissolved or annulled by a court, but such a judgment does not exist or its filing was invalid.
Ignorance of the law
You sincerely believe you were eligible to marry and not in violation of the law.
Common-law marriage recognition
Currently, you cannot enter into a common-law marriage in New Jersey. The state will only recognize common-law marriages that took place prior to December 1, 1939, regardless of where it was established.
Next step: registrar's office
At this point you should be exceedingly knowledgeable about all things related to obtaining a marriage or civil union license in the great State of New Jersey.
Your next step is to choose a local registrar's office (below) to apply in. There are hundreds of municipalities throughout the state, with one registrar office apiece.