Licensed to Wed: How to Get a Marriage License in New York
It’s an odd thing, being this close to the wedding. I simultaneously would like to stop time AND fast forward two or three weeks into the future. Somehow, it is still next to impossible to imagine this wedding ACTUALLY happening- so many moving parts still to figure out and assemble.
But yesterday, we managed to check off from the list one of the absolutely key ingredients to any successful wedding- the obtaining of the marriage license. You might argue that this is the ONLY key ingredient, besides two willing to-be-spouses and an officiant.
Based purely on wedding TV shows, I always imagined that getting a marriage license was a real to-do, involving blood tests and birth certificates and mad dashes to the county clerk to pick it up before they office closes the day before the wedding. It almost seemed to be a requirement that at least one of the spouses had to lose their SS card enroute to ensure the obligatory public screaming match.
Yeah, not the case at all, I found out. At least in New York, no blood tests are required, and only one form of ID is needed (passport or driver’s license will suffice). You can do 75% of it online and then just simply go to the office and finish it up in person. Easy peasy.
You can get all the nitty gritty details here, but here’s my simplified step-by-step on how to get yourself some legal marriage docs in NYC:
- Fill out all your application online. You’ll need to provide your and your partner’s addresses, DOB, occupations, places of the birth- the standard stuff. You’ll also need to have your parents’ names and places of birth. If you don’t know these things, you’re probably a s****y son or daughter. After completing the application, you’ll get a confirmation code that you’ll need to hold onto. Your online application will be valid for 21 days, during which point you’ll have to drag yourself and your code to the actual office to complete the process. If you miss that window, just resubmit.
- Get thee to the City Clerk’s office. You have to show up WITH your to-be-spouse. This fact put somewhat of a damper on my plans to write “Michael Fassbender” on the license, so I had to settle for Nick. Each borough has a City Clerk’s office, so you can just go to the one most convenient to you. One note- at least in Brooklyn, the City Clerk and the County Clerk are two different things. I entered the latter into Google Maps and took us to the wrong spot. Whoops. The Brooklyn City Clerk- the one you WANT to go to- is located at 210 Joralemon Street. And the marriage license office is on the second floor in suite 205. The hours are 8:30 to 4:00, so be prepared to be late to work.
- Wait in line. Because it wouldn’t be a governmental office without a disorganized line system, be prepared to stand around for a while. After a security person checks out your ID, you’ll be ushered into a line that maybe SEEMS short, but is actually very, very long. We arrived at the office around 9:30. There were only 5 people ahead of us, but we didn’t leave the office until about 10:45. It’s a surprisingly joyless atmosphere, considering that theoretically, all your fellow citizens are there for the same reason as you, which is to celebrate their undying love and affection. Even the brides in wedding dresses seemed a little low energy. I guess pee-yellow walls and fluorescent lights don’t really inspire romance.
- Talk to a government employee through a very thick window. You will sit with your beloved across from an unhappy employee shielded by a 1/2″ thick bulletproof window. This employee will speak very, very quietly and barely move her lips, so you will have to ask her to repeat herself over and over while you press your ear into what is essentially the government equivalent of a glory hole. Because nothing says “love” like bulletproof glass. She’ll pull up your info, ask a couple other questions (“Are you changing your name?” “Have you been married before?” “Are you doing your ceremony here?” “What is happiness like?”), and then print out your license. You and your partner will each sign it, the employee will whisper a few more critical instructions that you can only hope you heard correctly, and you’re done.
- Pay $35. Credit or cashier’s check only.
- Take a picture. Because you’ve just gotten your marriage license, and this is kind of a big deal.
- Have a celebratory meal at Shake Shack. It’s literally across the street. Unfortunately, we did not do this. It would not have been the first time I had Shake Shack for breakfast, but I wanted to go running shortly after and didn’t want to also throw up.
- Get married. In New York, unless you have a judge’s waiver, you have to wait 24 hours before having your ceremony. Your unsigned license will be valid for 60 days. If you don’t get married within that period, you can either burn it on a ceremonial fire or throw it into the ocean to nullify its contents*. If you love municipal buildings, you can have your ceremony in the same space- and lots of people were doing exactly that. Now, I love a City Hall wedding- but just as a matter of personal opinion and aesthetics, I would opt for the Manhattan one- it’s got a lot more marble and gold than the Brooklyn one, which is really just a dingy office.
Now, if I ran the Marriage Bureau, I would make a couple changes. First, I’d repaint the room and install some chandeliers- just something for a little glamour and sophistication. I’d make the employees dress like wedding guests every day. Every couple applying for a license or getting married would get a slice of cake as they were leaving. I’d put a little music on- nothing crazy, just something playing in the background. Basically, I’d just make the whole thing a little more celebratory. It’s probably the only municipal office where the individuals waiting in line are actually HAPPY to be there.
*This is obviously not true