In West Virginia, you can obtain a marriage license from the county clerk's office by the clerk of the county commission, or "county clerk" for short. A license issued from one county is good throughout the state. All applicants are welcome: state residents and foreigners.
The marriage license application is a fairly simple document. Each county is required to design their application, with guidance from the state. At a minimum, you'll be asked to provide your current legal name, date and place of birth, residence, and social security number.
Beyond those minimum fields, you can also expect to be asked to specify the number of previous marriages you've had; your parents' names, birth surnames, and places of birth; vital statistics information, such as race and highest education level completed; and various modes of contact, such as your residential and mailing address, phone number, and email address.
No social security number
If you don't have a social security number, you'll have to provide an equivalent number, such as your passport, tourist, or visa number.
Recording the application
Once you submit your application, you won't see it again. It'll be cataloged in the "register of marriages," as well as your eventual endorsed and returned license. Your application will be part of the public record and available for inspection.
Application vs. License
Applicants often confuse the marriage license application with the marriage license: they're different documents. The license merely mentions your names, the clerk's name, date and county of issuance, and spaces for your officiant to document your marriage ceremony before returning it to the issuing clerk.
In West Virginia, a marriage license costs $56 throughout the state. The price drops to $36 if you and your future spouse take a premarital education course.
The license fee is split across various county and state funds.
Regular fee allocation
The following table represents how the full $56 is allocated:
|1%||$1||County general fund, to operate the clerk's office|
|18%||$10||County general fund|
|36%||$20||Family protection shelter program|
|18%||$10||Courthouse facilities improvement fund|
|9%||$5||Fund for civil legal services for low income persons|
|18%||$10||Marriage education fund|
Premarital education fee allocation
The following table represents how the premarital education course $36 fee is allocated:
|2%||$1||County general fund, to operate the clerk's office|
|28%||$10||County general fund|
|42%||$15||Family protection shelter program|
|28%||$10||Courthouse facilities improvement fund|
Marriage certificate fee
If you need a certified copy of your marriage certificate sent to you after your marriage takes place, you must pay an extra $5 on top of your marriage license fee. This fee is the same statewide.
Premarital education course
If you and your future spouse are willing to participate in a premarital education course, you can learn great marriage skills and obtain a $20 discount off your marriage license fee. The course must last at least four hours and be taught by a qualified instructor.
Qualified course providers, who must be registered with the Department of Health and Human Resources, include licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, and professional counselors; or active or retired clergypersons, or their trained designees, who are trained in marital preparation education.
Providers are required to draft courses covering conflict management, improving communication, financing, children and parenting, dealing with extended families, and other matters related to improving and maintaining a thriving marriage.
Once you've finished the course, your provider must provide each of you a certificate of completion that's good for up to one year. Present your certificate to the county clerk when applying for your license so that you may receive your discount.
If either of you is a resident of this state, obtain a license from the county of either's residence. If neither of you are state residents, then you can apply in any county clerk office.
You must present valid identification to the county clerk that confirms your age and identity. State law makes mention of the following forms of acceptable ID: original or certified copy of your birth certificate; voter's registration certificate; chauffer's license or operator's license, which is basically a driver's license; or guardian or parent(s) affidavit attesting to age.
Other forms of ID
The state gives leeway to the clerk to accept other forms of ID, as long as it satisfies their suspicions. The following types of ID are unofficially—meaning not specifically ascribed by law—supported throughout the state: state-issued ID, military ID card, social security card, passport, or visa. In other words, you'd be hard-pressed to find a clerk who doesn't accept these forms of ID.
Affidavit attesting to age
If you're lacking in identification, you can get your guardian or parents to vouch for you by way of an affidavit. If both your parents are together, both must attest. If they're separated or divorced, get the attestation from whoever has custody of you. If one parent is dead, get it from the surviving parent. If both parents are dead, get it from your guardian.
Your age determines whether or not you're legally capable of getting married. The question comes down to which side of the dividing line you're on: adult or minor?
Which age group do you fall under?
Age 18 or older
If you're eighteen years old or older, you're considered a legal adult who's capable of entering a marriage contract without the consent of a guardian or parent.
Age 16 or 17
If you're sixteen or seventeen years old, you'll need consent to marry from your guardian or parents (which vary depending on their marital status).
Age 15 or younger
If you're fifteen years old or younger, you must obtain guardian or parental consent to marry along with a circuit judge's approval.
Who grants consent?
Who's responsible for issuing consent depends on your parents' marital situation. Go down the following list and when you encounter a scenario that applies to you, then that's who's responsible for granting consent.
If you have a legal guardian, that's who grants consent.
Parents divorced or separated
If your parents are no longer together, then get consent from whoever has custody of you.
One living parent
If only one of your parents is alive, obtain consent to marry from whoever's still with us.
Both parents together
If your parents are still married and living together, obtain consent from both of them.
Consent must be put in writing. You can obtain a consent form from the county clerk's office. Whoever grants consent must do it before a person authorized to acknowledge the declaration, such as a county clerk or notary public. The consent form will be attached to your application and made part of the public record.
Circuit judge approval
If you're below the age of sixteen, then obtaining consent is just part one of a two part process. The second and final step is gaining the approval of a circuit court judge. The judge must be from the same county where your application is filed.
If the judge finds it to be in your best interest to marry, an order will be granted that directs the clerk to issue you a license. Take that order to the clerk to get your license.
The clerk will attach the judge's order to your application, where it will be made available as part of the public record. If there's any reference to you being pregnant, that will be stripped from the public record.
If you're below the age of 18, you must wait two full calendar days before your license is issued following the filing of your application.
You can seek a waiver of the two-day wait from a circuit court judge. The judge must be from the same county where you submit your application. If the judge finds there's an emergency or extraordinary justification for waiving the two-day wait, a written order will be provided to you that directs the county clerk to issue the license immediately, or sometime before the two-day wait expires.
If the circuit court judge is unavailable, then you can seek a neighboring county's circuit judge to grant the order. You could also seek out a supreme court of appeals appointed special judge, if all else fails.
Your marriage license will expire 60 days after it's been issued; afterward, it will be void. If your license isn't returned within 60 days after it's expired, the clerk will try to alert you.
Although state law stipulates a sixty day license expiration period, it also says a marriage solemnized after expiration would not be void as long as the marriage is lawful in all other respects and you and your spouse believed the ceremony was conducted lawfully.
This is a contradictory, get out of jail free card that will most likely not come into play considering you'd have to employ the services of an officiant who deliberately ignores the expiration date imprinted on your license.
You are not required to get a blood test or physical exam in order to apply for and be issued a license to marry.
If you've been previously married, you must provide proof of how the last one ended by way of a divorce decree or death certificate. Either must be certified copies.
If any of the following types of marriages are established in this state, they are void from inception.
State law forbids marriage based on consanguinity, or blood-relations. You are prohibited from marrying any of the following members of your family:
- Grandparent (including Great and Great-great-grandparent)
- Sibling (half or whole blood)
- Grandchild (including Great and Great-great-grandchild)
- First cousin or double-first cousin (see exception)
Adopted cousins excluded
The first cousin and double-first cousin marriage prohibition doesn't apply if you're separated by adoption instead of blood. This only applies to cousins and not other "step" relationships, such as stepparent and stepchild or between stepsiblings.
The clerk may initiate a circuit court proceeding to confirm your relationship is truly separated by adoption. The court will confidentially examine all available evidence to validate your claim. If no obstruction is found, the judge will issue an order that will direct the clerk to issue you a license.
Living husband or wife
If you have a living spouse, you cannot marry until that marriage has been dissolved, otherwise your subsequent marriage would be an act of bigamy.
Solemnization is a fancy word that's defined as the presiding over of your marriage. It's also referred to as performing or officiating a marriage. The person who's tasked with this responsibility is generally referred to as the officiant.
Your marriage can be solemnized by a judge or religious official.
Authorized judges permitted to solemnize marriages include circuit court judges, family court judges, and justices of the supreme court of appeals. When done during regular judicial hours, your marriage will be conducted as a civil ceremony.
The term "religious officials" not only includes ministers, priests, and rabbis, but any leader or authorized representative of a church, synagogue, spiritual assembly, or religious organization. Religious organizations are not required to have their authorized officials be licensed or ordained.
Must be registered
Any religious official who wishes to solemnize marriages must be officially registered with the Secretary of State's office. They must be at least 18 years old and pay a $25 registration fee. If you're looking to have a religious official officiate your marriage, you can confirm if they're legit by searching the registry of ministers.
Once your marriage has been solemnized, your officiant must endorse the license. Endorsement entails filling in the empty spaces that detail when and where your marriage was celebrated and other basic evidentiary details.
If you're to be married by a religious official, they must create a record of the ceremony within their church, synagogue, or equivalent facility of their associated religious organization. The log must record the ceremony date as well as you and your spouse's name and residence.
Returning the license
Failure to return
If your officiant willfully neglects to return your endorsed marriage license they may be subject to severe penalties, including stripping of their authority to solemnize marriages for six months to a year. The county clerk refers such matters to the prosecuting attorney where the case will be heard in circuit court.
If you have the misfortune of having your marriage solemnized by someone claiming to have authority that really does not, it wouldn't invalidate or void your marriage as long as you or your spouse believed your ceremony was legitimately conducted by an authorized person.
Once your original and endorsed license has been returned to the clerk, it will be recorded. The same "register of marriages" log book used to record your application will be used to register your license.
Your record will be index by both you and your spouse's name to facilitate efficient lookups in the event of a public records search or request for a certified copy of your marriage certificate.
Non-return of license
If your endorsed and completed marriage license isn't returned to the issuing clerk within 60 days after the expiration of your license (which is 120 days after issuance), the clerk will notify each of you separately of this fact via certified mail.
This is a precautionary measure to make sure all celebrated marriages are properly recorded by the state in the event of a failure of your officiant to properly return your license for recording.
If the clerk discovers your officiant knowingly failed to return your endorsed license, the matter will be referred to the circuit court to determine if your officiant's solemnization duties shall be suspended.
Once your marriage has been recorded, certified copies of your marriage certificate will be available for you to order. If you already paid for a copy at the same time you applied for your license, it will be automatically mailed to you.
Your marriage certificate serves as proof of marriage and will allow you to complete a marriage-related name change with the Social Security Administration, division of motor vehicles, and passport office.
Out-of-state or foreign marriage
If you're a resident of West Virginia who marries outside the state, your marriage will be recognized as valid here as long as it doesn't violate any provisions related to age requirements or prohibited marriage types.
Another way to put it is you can't marry outside of West Virginia for the sole purpose of evading this state's laws.
Registering your marriage
You can optionally have your out-of-state marriage recorded with this state. Simply provide the county clerk of you or your spouse's county of residence with a certified copy of your marriage record so that it may be registered as if your marriage took place in this state.
You can alternatively supply the clerk with a written affidavit documenting the facts of the day by anyone present, such as yourself, your spouse, the officiant, or witness.