To get married in Wisconsin, you must first obtain a marriage license from a county clerk's office. Residency determines which office you must apply in and where you can subsequently marry. When applying—which must be done together—you'll be handled by the county clerk or an appointed deputy clerk.
What is marriage?
Marriage is a civil contract that you must consent to willingly. State law describes marriage as "highly desirable" and vital to "morality and civilization." That being said, this article is solely focused on preparing you to properly and legally obtain a marriage license and registering your marriage afterward.
Translate non-English documents
Any legal document that you present—birth, annulment, divorce, or death certificate—not written in English must be accompanied by a certified and notarized English translation.
Translations must be executed by a neutral third-party, which would exclude you, your prospective spouse, friends, and relatives.
Your residence is defined as where you resided for the past 30 days immediately prior to submitting your application. You must substantiate your residency.
One or both are residents
If you or your prospective spouse is a resident of Wisconsin, obtain your marriage license from the county of either's residence. Afterward, you're free to marry anywhere within the state.
Neither is a resident
If neither you nor your prospective spouse is a resident of the state, obtain your license from the county where the marriage ceremony will take place.
A marriage license costs between $50 and $120, depending on which county you apply in. Fees are due at the time you submit your application and are nonrefundable.
Why the disparity?
Although state law requires county clerk's charge a minimum fee of $49.50 per license, county boards are permitted to increase the fee to whatever they want, which every county cheerfully does.
License fees are vastly inconsistent throughout the state, with $50 at the low end, $120 at the apex, and $75 representing the most common price point in two-thirds of the counties.
Who gets the money?
Twenty-five dollars out of the license fee goes to the state treasury, while the county must allocate $20 for expenses related to family court services. Leftover money can be used by the county however it wishes, although the state recommends some or all is applied to domestic violence programs.
Wisconsin is rare in that it's one of the few states that only suggests instead of mandates a portion of the license fee be apportioned to serve victims of domestic violence.
Certificate not included
Purchasing a marriage license does not mean you'll automatically receive a certified copy of your marriage certificate. Certified copies must be bought separately through the register of deeds or state registrar.
It takes about 30 to 60 minutes to process your application, so plan accordingly.
Questions for you
You'll be asked to supply the following information on your marriage license application (a.k.a. marriage license worksheet):
- Current full legal name
- Last name at birth (a.k.a. maiden name)
- Residence, including state, county, city or village or town, and if within city limits (yes/no)
- Mailing address
- Date of birth
- Birthplace (state or country)
- Father's full name
- Mother's full name, including maiden name
- Parents' birthplaces (state or country)
- Social security number (if you have one, used for child support enforcement purposes)
- Relationship to the other applicant (e.g., none, first cousin)
- Officiant's name, address, and phone number
- Ceremony date and place (county and city, town, or village)
Oaths and preparing the license
Once you sign and date your application under oath, where you swear or affirm that the provided information is true, the county clerk will copy over your information—minus the social security number and vital statistic-related attributes—onto a blank marriage license form.
At this point, your marriage license is nearly complete and will be immediately queued for eventual release… five days later.
Application is a public record
The county clerk will insert a partial transcription of your application into a "marriage license docket" that is open to the public for inspection during normal business hours.
Some sensitive information will be excluded from the docket, such as social security numbers, street addresses, phone numbers, and confidential data related to vital statistics. Clerks are required to maintain the docket for at least 10 years.
A law enforcement officer may submit a written request to obtain any name, address, or phone number within the docket in service to an investigation or warrant.
Dispatch to vital records
Penalty for falsehoods
If you falsely swear or affirm to anything involving the making of your application, you will be subject to a maximum fine of $10,000, or a maximum of nine months imprisonment, or both.
Your marriage license will be issued to you five days after you submit your application. Once you receive your license, it can be used immediately.
It's five days, not six days
If the county clerk tells you there's a six-day waiting period, it's because he or she is including the current day, but it really is just five days, as that's what state law stipulates.
Application day, pick up day
The table below illustrates what the pick up day will be depending on which day you apply on. Keep in mind, county clerk offices are closed weekends, legal holidays, and some county holidays.
|Apply on||Pick up on|
Circumventing the wait
The county clerk may allow you to waive all or some of the five-day waiting period if you pay a waiver fee, which varies by county, but will cost no more than $25.
The date of application and issuance (it's effective date) will be shown on the license.
Issued license and certificate
Your issued marriage license is actually a two-part document: marriage license and marriage certificate worksheet. Needless to say, your marriage license cannot be used outside the State of Wisconsin.
The "marriage license" section
The marriage license—completed by the county clerk—authorizes your marriage to take place. You must sign the license before your ceremony, ideally in the clerk's office.
The "marriage certificate worksheet" section
Your marriage license will expire 30 days after issuance, after which it will be void. No refund or extension will be given for an expired license.
Proof of birth
You must present a certified copy of your birth certificate, no matter how old you are. Foreign birth certificates that are not written in English must be translated into English.
Baptismal, church, hospital, and souvenir birth records, papers, or certificates will not be accepted, as they hold no legal weight.
Proof of identity
You must present one form of valid photo identification, such as a driver's license, non-driver's ID card, state-issued ID card, military ID card, passport, permanent resident card, or certificate of naturalization.
Proof of residency
You must exhibit proof of residency, as Wisconsin requires state residents and nonresidents to apply differently, depending on where they've been recently domiciled.
If you've recently moved or your primary identification doesn't show your residential address, bring a piece of mail that's over 30 days old that shows your name and address, such as a utility bill, bank statement, or rental lease agreement. PO Boxes are not admissible.
If the county clerk is not satisfied with the documents you've provided, he or she must solicit the opinion of a judge of any court of record within the county to determine if the available evidence is adequate.
You are not required to obtain a blood test in order to get a marriage license.
Fetal alcohol syndrome and cocaine
The county clerk is obligated to provide you information about fetal alcohol syndrome and how the use of cocaine and other drugs can negatively affect a pregnancy.
Ages 18 and above
If you're at or above the age of 18, you can get married without having to obtain consent from anyone. However, if you're an adult under guardianship, the written consent of your guardian is required.
Ages 16 and 17
If you're 16 or 17 years old, you must obtain written consent to marry from a custodial figure that has care and supervision over you. This typically requires the participation of both your parents, but can vary.
Ages 15 and below
If you're at or below the age of 15, you cannot lawfully marry in this state, regardless of consent.
Who grants consent?
If you require consent to marry, which can apply to underage applicants as well as adults who are wards of a guardian, it's important to determine who the standard bearer will be. Following are the possible persons or entities authorized to grant consent for you to marry:
If you have a court-appointed legal guardian, he or she is the sole decider in determining your eligibility to marry. This applies to minors and adults under guardianship.
If you don't have a guardian, but do have an appointed custodian, the custodian is the person authorized to consent to or reject your request to enter into a marriage.
If both your parents are alive and retain equal custody of you, the consent of both to your marriage is essential. There is no legal protocol available for one parent to override the other's objection.
If both your parents are alive, yet only one serves as your custodial parent, he or she must grant consent for you to marry. Your noncustodial parent's approval or opposition is irrelevant in such circumstances.
Sole living parent
If you have only one living parent who maintains custody of you, that is who must grant consent for you to marry.
Agency or department
If you're under the custodial care of an agency or department, instead of a person, that organization must grant consent for you to marry and have it backed up with a probate court hearing.
No parent, guardian, or custodian
If you have no guardian, custodian, or parent, then you're in a rare situation which requires the probate court to be the sole deciding voice on whether or not you may marry.
Granting written consent
Whoever grants consent to your marriage must put it in writing, upon a readymade consent form, available from the county clerk's office.
If the person granting consent for you to marry accompanies you to the making of the application, their consent must still be put in writing and presented to the county clerk, under oath. That person must also present valid identification—photo ID is preferable.
If the person who's going to consent to your marriage is unable or unwilling to do it in person, before the county clerk, it can be expressed through an affidavit, before a notary public or other official who's allowed to receive affidavits. The certified written consent must be filed with the clerk when applying.
Proof of widowhood
If your last marriage left you a widow or widower, you must show the county clerk a certified copy of your spouse's death certificate. If it's not written in English, it must include a translation.
Proof of divorce
If your last marriage ended in divorce or annulment, you must present a certified copy of your divorce decree or annulment papers to the county clerk. It must include the judge's signature. If your certificate is not in English, you must attach a translation.
If you're unable to obtain certified documents proving your divorce, annulment, or spouse's death, provide other credible documentary evidence. If the clerk isn't satisfied with your proof, a judge of a court of record within the county will have to offer a judgment.
Six-month moratorium for divorcees
Wisconsin imposes a six-month delay between the final judgment of divorce and remarriage. It doesn't matter where the divorce was finalized or whether you're a state resident. There is no way to waive this stipulation.
If you were to get married within six months of divorce, the subsequent—unlawful—marriage would be void. This only applies to divorces, not annulments.
If you have a living husband or wife, you cannot get married again until your prior marriage has been legally dissolved. Moreover, there's a six-month freeze between divorce and remarriage.
Between family members
You cannot marry anyone in your family who's closer to you than a second cousin—whether related by whole blood, half blood, or adoption—which rules out the following relations:
- First cousin
First cousin exception
You may marry your first cousin if you meet either of the following conditions:
- You're a female who's at least 55 years old.
- You're permanently sterile and submit a signed physician's affidavit attesting to that fact.
You cannot marry if you're incompetent, meaning you lack sufficient understanding to consent to marriage.
Evading the law
Residents marrying out-of-state
If you're a Wisconsin resident who contracts an out-of-state marriage that would be prohibited by the laws of this state, that marriage would not be recognized here.
Nonresidents marrying here
If you're a nonresident who gets married in Wisconsin, the marriage would be void if it could not have lawfully taken place in your state or country of residence.
If you are found guilty of intentionally marrying outside the state to evade the law, your punishment will be a fine of $10,000 or less, or up to nine months imprisonment, or both.
The person who solemnizes your marriage is called the officiant. Officiants must be at least 18 years old, excluding parties to a self-solemnized ceremony. The state authorizes the following persons to officiate your marriage:
Your marriage may be solemnized by any active and ordained member of the clergy, belonging to any religious denomination or society, from Wisconsin or out-of-state. This also includes accredited denominational licentiates as well as appointees chosen by a bishop of any church or denomination.
The county clerk, register of deeds, or state registrar is unable to vouch for the authenticity of any religious officiant or society; there is no county or state sanctioned registry, blacklist, or whitelist.
Your marriage may be performed by any appointed or elected judge of a Wisconsin court of record, including circuit court judges, municipal judges, reserve judges, tribal judges on a state Indian reservation, and federal judges having jurisdiction in the state.
Court-appointed circuit court commissioners, family court commissioners, and supplemental court commissioners may also solemnize, but they must be residents of the state.
Parties to the marriage
You and your prospective spouse may perform a self-solemnization—where you act as your own officiant—as long as it's in compliance with the conventions of the religious society, denomination, or sect that either belongs to. The county clerk cannot and will not attempt to verify your claimed membership.
Before your marriage ceremony can be solemnized, the officiant has a duty to determine that the persons named in the marriage license are actually in attendance and that no legal impediment to the proposed marriage exists.
At least two competent adult witnesses aged 18 or above—not including the officiant—must be present during the ceremony. They will be required to print and sign their names on the license, in black ink.
You may actually have up to four signatories if at least two are competent adults at or above the age of 18 and each signature is distinguishable from one another. For example, the following group of four attending witnesses would be acceptable:
- Witness 1: 18 years old
- Witness 2: 18 years old
- Witness 3: 10 years old
- Witness 4: 15 years old
Completing the license
Once your ceremony is done, the officiant must legibly fill out—also referred to as certifying or endorsing—the "officiant" portion of the marriage license in black ink by detailing the following:
- Officiant's name, signature, mailing address, phone number, and email address
- Date of marriage
- Place of marriage, including location (e.g., church, mosque), city or town or village, and county
- Direct the witnesses to print and sign their names
Delivery to the register of deeds
Once the marriage license has been completed, the original copy must be delivered to the register of deeds, located in the same county where the marriage took place, within three days after the ceremony. It's worth reiterating, delivery should be made to the register of deeds, not the issuing county clerk.
Self-uniting marriage caveat
If you and your spouse are opting to solemnize your marriage yourselves, in lieu of employing an officiant, you will both be responsible for properly completing and transporting the marriage license. This means the "officiants" portion of the license must be filled out twice: first by you, then your spouse.
If your marriage is solemnized by someone who lacked the authority or jurisdiction, it would not invalidate your marriage as long as it was otherwise lawful and you, or your spouse, or both fully believed it was legitimately conducted at the time.
Registering the return
Once your completed and delivered marriage license has been received by the register of deeds, it will be registered. Registration entails signing, dating, indexing, and filing the license in the office. Afterward, certified copies of your marriage certificate will be available for order.
You can obtain a certified or uncertified copy of your marriage certificate (a.k.a. certificate of marriage) from the register of deeds that registered it or the state registrar of vital statistics.
The fee for a certified or uncertified copy of your marriage certificate is $20 for the first copy and $3 for each additional copy.
Certified copy features
Here's what you'll get with a certified copy of your marriage certificate, or any other vital record:
- Printed on special security paper
- Contains an official raised seal
- Contains the register of deed's or state registrar's signature
- Can be used for identity and legal purposes (e.g., court proceedings, marriage name change)
- Only accessible to persons named in the record or authorized by such persons to access it
Uncertified copy features
Here's what's contained in an uncertified copy of your marriage certificate:
- Printed on plain paper marked "uncertified"
- Does not have a raised seal
- Not signed by the local or state registrar
- Non-legal document, for informational purposes only
- Can be purchased by anyone
- Contains the same information as a certified copy
Name change after marriage
If you expect to change your name after marriage, you'll need to obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate beforehand. Federal and state government offices, such as the Social Security Administration and Division of Motor Vehicles will only honor certified copies for name change requests.
Remarriage or vow renewal
Wisconsin does not permit a marriage license be issued to a couple who are already married to each other. This is typically sought for remarriage or reaffirmation/renewal of marriage vows.
Wisconsin does not, nor has it ever, recognized common-law marriage as legitimate.
You cannot get married by proxy, which is when you employ a stand-in to take your place. For instance, a remote marriage via telephone or internet webcam is not allowed. You, your prospective spouse, the officiant, and requisite witnesses must be physically gathered together during the ceremony.
The next step
Now that you understand what it takes to effectively apply for a marriage license in this state, you must choose where to go. Consult the list of counties for county clerk office locations, hours of operation, and county-specific fees.