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How To Perform A Marriage Ceremony In California

California’s process for legally performing marriage ceremonies is fast, simple and uncomplicated. If you’re planning to perform a wedding ceremony anywhere in the State of California, we’ll walk you through every step to make sure your wedding day is worry-free.

What are the steps?

  1.  Ordination: You must be legally ordained and licensed as a Wedding Officiant in accordance with California state law in order to perform the marriage ceremony. The state does not have either an education or registration requirement, so if you are 18 years of age or older and have the capability to (1) perform the ceremony; (2) witness the signing of the marriage license by the bridal couple and the witness; (3) sign the marriage license yourself as the legal Wedding Officiant; and (4) return the marriage license to the issuing clerk’s office in a timely manner, then you meet the minimum legal standards.
    If you meet these criteria, you may request California-based ordination, under which you will receive your minister’s license. (Ordination is the process of being granted the authority to perform ceremonies. Upon becoming ordained, you are licensed as a minister and may perform ceremonies.)
  2. California State Flag (Image)Preparation: Begin planning the ceremony with your bridal couple, based on what their preferences are. Do they want a religious ceremony? Do they prefer a ceremony in which God or other deities are not mentioned? Design a written plan for the entire marriage ceremony, from the Officiant’s welcome and opening words to the assembled friends and family, to the commitment vows spoken by the couple, to the Officiant’s final pronouncement of husband and wife.
    Once everything has been written, you (as the Officiant) must rehearse the ceremony. You can do this on your own, or with a friend (or two) serving as your couple. The important point is to rehearse — practice makes perfect, especially if you’ve never performed a wedding ceremony before!
    Also, you should check with your couple throughout the planning process (1) to remind them to go down to the county clerk’s office in advance of their wedding day to obtain their marriage license, and (2) once they’ve obtained their marriage license, to remind them to bring it with them on their wedding day. The first rule of weddings: no marriage license, no wedding!
  3. Perform The Ceremony: The big day has arrived! Your couple looks great … but do they have their marriage license with them? Ask early, just in case they need to send someone back to their apartment to pick it up.
    If there wasn’t an on-site rehearsal and if you’re not familiar with the wedding venue, take some time — as much as possible — to walk around the facility. Make sure you’re comfortable with where you’ll be standing, and that you know where your couple and their attendants will be standing. Will you be working with a microphone? Check with the person who will be handling the audio — quite often, it’s the disc jockey — to see if you’ll have a microphone attached to you, or if there will be a mike stand. With or without a microphone, test your voice. Can you be heard in the last row?
    And then, the ceremony begins. You welcome the guests, friends and family, and present your opening remarks. The bridal couple exchanges their vows, and you pronounce them married to each other — don’t forget to remind them to share their first kiss to seal their vows!
  4. After The Ceremony: Give your couple a few moments to relax and breathe, and to spend their first few minutes together as a married couple — they probably spent months and months planning this day, and they deserve a chance to catch their breath.
    But now, you’ve got one final step that you must take — and it is, without any doubt, the single most important step of them all: before your couple heads off to party all night at their reception, you must take them (and their witness) aside to sign the marriage license.
    Once everyone has signed the license IN DARK INK, and all the various boxes on the form have been filled in, DOUBLE-CHECK your work! It is much better to spend an extra minute or two to confirm that the marriage license is complete, rather than having to chase your couple down several days later (maybe while they are enjoying their honeymoon!) to fix something that could have been handled right there and then.
  5. Return The Marriage License: As your couple heads off to their reception, fold up their marriage license and pop it back in the envelope it came with, and then put it someplace SAFE for the time being — if you’re staying for the reception, take it to your car or your hotel room so that it doesn’t get lost or misplaced; if you are departing, take it with you.
    In either case, it is your SOLE RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that the license is returned to the county clerk’s office that issued it WITHIN TEN DAYS after the ceremony, either in person or by mail. (The county clerk’s address is on the envelope the marriage license came in.)
    DO NOT wait until the eighth or ninth day following the wedding to send it back in — there is no good reason at all to hold on to it. Drop it in the mailbox as soon as you can!

And … you’re done!

Things To Keep In Mind…

Do you live outside of California? It’s not a problem, as long as you are legally ordained in compliance with California’s laws. California does not restrict non-resident Wedding Officiants from performing ceremonies anywhere in the state.

Not sure if your ordination is California-compliant? You may request low-cost, single-ceremony ordination that allows you to serve as a Wedding Officiant anywhere in California for one ceremony.

California Marriage License (Sample)
A sample California Marriage License

Where do you register with the State of California? You don’t! California does not currently have a registration requirement for Wedding Officiants, but you must submit a copy of your credentials (your ordination letter or certificate, showing your true legal name, as well as the date you were ordained, and the name of the ordaining organization) to any legal authority, as well as your bridal couple, upon their request.

Standard professional practice is to provide your bridal couple with a copy (never the original) of your ordination document. That way, they’re covered in case they ever need it.

What does a California marriage license look like? If you’ve never seen a California marriage license before, click here for a sample. Keep in mind that California issues several slightly different marriage license forms; while the look of each document may be slightly different, the content is essentially the same.

The foremost concept to keep in mind is that you are responsible for that sheet of paper. Review it in great detail, and pay special attention to the instructions on it, which includes the following:

To Person Solemnizing Marriage Ceremony

The License and Certificate of Marriage must be used only within the State of California, expires 90 days after date of issue, and cannot be used after the
“Expiration Date” shown in Item 25B.

1. Complete the marriage license using DARK INK ONLY.
2. Have one or two witnesses to the marriage sign Items 26A and 27A and complete Items 26B, 26C, 27B, and 27C.
3. Enter date and place of marriage in Item 28A, 28B, and 28C.
4. Sign your name in Item 29A.
5. If clergy, enter your denomination in Item 29B. If not, enter a single dash.
6. Type or print your name, official title, and mailing address in Items 29C through 29E.

The completed LICENSE AND CERTIFICATE OF MARRIAGE must be returned within 10 days after the marriage ceremony by the person performing the ceremony so that it may be registered by the local registrar of marriages (County Recorder) for the county where the license was issued. It can be mailed or delivered in person.


Need to be ordained to perform a marriage ceremony in California? Please click here. (Performing a ceremony in a different state? Click here.)

Have questions? Please ask! We’re here to provide you with guidance whenever you need it.