Difference Between Public And Confidential Marriage License.

WhatToGetMy Instructional Article

You’re probably thinking that not many people get married anymore. It will however surprise you just how many millions of Americans still walk the proverbial aisle and get married year in, year out. The above chart from Statista shows that millions of Americans get married every year. These statistics tell us that marriage is still a big deal, and rightfully so. We all secretly yearn for that forever happily ever after and marriage is the surest way to trying out your forever happily ever after.



You could be one of the many millions or just hoping to join the number. Wherever you fall in that spectrum, it is a good idea to know early enough the finer nuances and nitty-gritty of what some legalities about marriage might be. 


This is because after all the warm fuzzy feeling of love is said and done, it is the law that will get you joined together as spouses, and it is also the law that will determine to a large extent several aspects of your marriage like proprietary rights and liabilities and the likes.


In this article, we provide some useful answers on an important preliminary step before you walk down the aisle. And this is the step that involves the marriage license. Find all the answers to the questions you have been asking about marriage licenses and what they mean as well as the pros and cons associated with the different types of marriage licenses available.


And in case you missed them, check out our insightful pre-marriage articles on Things to know about each other before marriage and Benefits of marriage for men and women.

What is a Marriage License Generally?

Think of a marriage license as the authorization you need from your State to get married. We know, it sounds weird that you have to get permission to walk down the aisle right? But alas it is what it is. You need to get a marriage license in advance before you can take that historic walk down the aisle with your beloved. 


There isn’t one blanket procedure however in going about applying for one. The laid down procedures differ from State to State. And thus, it is important to make the necessary inquiries from the County Clerk’s office around you. They will guide you on all the documents you need to have and the relevant applicable timelines. 


Be sure to find out the applicable timelines because in some States you need to allow for at least 72 hours before you can be issued with the license. In such cases, waiting 48 hours to the wedding date would be too huge a risk that may affect you holding the wedding as planned.


And if you are thinking of calling off the bluff of getting a marriage license, just remember that without a marriage license you cannot get a marriage certificate. The marriage license is the first important step to getting a marriage certificate.

What is a Confidential Marriage License?

A confidential marriage license is still a marriage license. The only thing that makes it confidential is that it is a private marriage license of sorts that cannot be accessible to any other person but you and your spouse. So it is not a public record that anyone can walk into a County Clerk’s office and have access to. Also known as a secret marriage license, this is the option you go for if you don’t want anyone knowing that you’re married.

What is a Public Marriage License?

A public marriage license is the opposite of a private or confidential marriage license. Just like the secret marriage license, it is still your normal marriage license but one that can be accessed by any member of the public. So, it is a public document. And therein lies its difference with the confidential marriage license. Thus, if you don’t mind anyone walking into a County Clerk’s office and having access to your marriage license, then opt for the public marriage license.


What are the benefits and disadvantages of both types of marriage licenses? We discuss the salient ones in the next sections.

Public or Confidential Marriage License? Advantages and Disadvantages of a Public Marriage License.

The public marriage license has more disadvantages than advantages. Indeed, the only seeming advantage it has may very well be a disadvantage. And that is the fact that it is a public record and therefore easy to see that you are about to or did get married at some point.


There are however several disadvantages associated with a public marriage license. The key ones are the following:

  1. Your private information is very vulnerable and could be at risk. 

Since anyone can walk into a county office and have access to any marriage license, it means just about anyone can see your information and take it if they want. This isn’t very comforting knowledge in this day and age where there is so much identity theft and other types of fraud being perpetrated on innocent unsuspecting persons. Why is this potentially problematic? It is because of the level of information you disclose on your marriage license. You will need to disclose all your personal details/information. 

  1. It is a tedious and time-consuming process to get one. 

Not only do you have to queue up for very long hours to get the process started and eventually completed, but you will also need to go to the county office to pick it up as there isn’t an option of posting. Also, both of you must be physically present at the county office before you can complete the process and eventually be issued with one. And not forgetting the fact that you will need witnesses to complete the signing of the license.

  1. It is more costly than a confidential marriage license. 

And then there’s the money aspect too. You would think that something that would be so public would cost way less than something exclusive and private right? Well wrong! Public marriage licenses always cost at least $3-$6 more than a confidential marriage license depending on your State.

Confidential vs Non Confidential Marriage License? Advantages and Disadvantages of a Confidential Marriage License.

As you can already tell from the earlier section, confidential marriage licenses clearly have more advantages than a public marriage license. And the fact that their secret nature does not make them any less valid as a marriage license makes it all the more appealing. These are the significant advantages of a confidential marriage license.

  1. Your private information is safe and secure. 

Without a court order, no one else aside from you and your spouse can have access to your information. You can therefore sleep safe and sound knowing that your very personal details are not at risk of being stolen or manipulated.

  1. You save money. 

Yup, that’s right. For something so exclusive and special you actually spend less than the public one. How cool, right! 

  1. Almost hassle-free. 

You don’t have to worry about having to get witnesses to make the trip with you to the county office. A confidential marriage license does not require witnesses, unlike a public marriage license that needs witnesses.


The only disadvantage, which is in itself an advantage, is the fact that your marriage is private. Some may say you are hiding something, but who cares right? When you need the legal protection that comes with having a marriage license, you don’t need the whole world to enjoy that advantage with you. And so, the whole world will be just fine not knowing the private and personal details of your marriage and the license.

Why Get a Confidential Marriage License? Benefits of a Confidential Marriage License.

The biggest benefit that comes with the confidential marriage license is the privacy and peace of mind you will enjoy knowing your private information is private. You are not at risk of identity theft or getting really annoying calls from unwanted telemarketers.


Some people may not see any issues with having their private information out there for everyone to see, especially if they want to think of themselves as the “regular Joes and Janes”. But always remember that identity thieves and telemarketers always target the so-called “regular Joes and Janes” because they are easier targets than the so-called celebrities.

Why Get a Public Marriage License? Benefits of a Public Marriage License.

The two main benefits of a public marriage license are that it is cheaper to get it and your information is public record. So, if you don’t mind anyone being able to know your personal information then this is a great option for you. If you however shudder at the thought of everyone having access to your personal information, then this is not the wedding license to opt for. 

Frequently Asked Questions.

  1. Define a marriage license?

A marriage license is a legal document permitting a couple to get married. It is the precursor to a marriage certificate and the only document that entitles you to a marriage certificate.

  1. Are marriage licenses public records in California?

Yes, a public marriage license is a public record even in California. The only marriage licenses that are not open to the public are confidential marriage licenses.

  1. Can you hide marriage records?

You can only ‘hide’ a marriage record if you opt for a confidential marriage license. In this way, without a court order or your consent, your marriage record is as good as hidden.

  1. Where can I get a confidential marriage license?

You can get it from the County Clerk’s office. Walk into your nearest county office and find out what the niceties you need to satisfy are.

  1. Is a marriage license and certificate the same thing?

No, they are not the same thing. A marriage license is permission certifying that you have fulfilled all the requirements to get married under your State laws. The marriage certificate is the document that says you are now married. The license is what precedes the certificate. You however need the license to be able to get the certificate.

  1. Can I still get married without a marriage license?

In principle, you can. However, your ‘marriage’ will not be recognized in the sight of the law. And this means that the legal protections extended to marriages will not be extended to your ‘marriage’. 


While you may think this is something you can live with, think of what this could mean for you in the long term. It means you cannot enjoy the tax benefits that married people enjoy for instance. And for instance, if something bad happens to one of you, the other would not have a say in the care of that person because in the eyes of the law you are not related or connected since there is nothing on paper to say so. And not forgetting that your children would not be considered children of marriage because in the eyes of the law you are not legally married. 


So, when you consider all of these factors, is it really worth it getting ‘married’ without a marriage license? We will leave that question for you to answer.

  1. What are the benefits of marriage?

Marriage has several benefits. Check out our insightful article on Benefits of marriage for men and women for answers on why you should consider marriage if you’re not already considering it.


Marriage is exciting and still appealing to many Americans. At least we now know that as many as 61.45 million Americans got married in 2021. So, marriage isn’t something to dread at all. And while you make the conscious decision to get married, be aware that you need a marriage license and marriage certificate to be considered married under the law.


In this article, we have shown you in detail the differences between public and confidential marriage licenses. At the end of the day, the option you settle for between the two will be dictated by your personal tastes and preferences.

What Are Your Thoughts?

The law has no business granting me permission to marry by imposing this requirement of a marriage license. Do you agree or disagree?




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