What Happens If Your Marriage License is Never Filed: Understanding the Consequences

Getting married is a big step, but what happens if your marriage license is never filed? Unfortunately, this situation is more common than you might think. 

In general, if a marriage license is never filed, the government does not have any official record of the marriage, and the marriage will most likely not be recognized as a legal union in the eyes of the law.

The Legal Implications of an Unfiled Marriage License

When two people get married, they must obtain a marriage license from their local government. The license is a legal record of the marriage and serves as proof that the couple is legally married. 

For example, in Missouri, where my law practice is located, the person performing the marriage ceremony must file the marriage license to the issuing Recorder of Deeds within 15 days of the wedding.

If a marriage or wedding ceremony does not happen, the license shall be “void” after thirty days from the date of issuance. 

The legal implications of failing to file a marriage license can vary depending on your state, but some common consequences include the following:

  1. Lack of legal recognition of the marriage: If a marriage license is never filed, the marriage may not be legally recognized by the government. This means that the couple may not be considered legally married for taxes, immigration, or other legal matters.
  2. Difficulty in obtaining health insurance and Social Security benefits: If a couple is not legally recognized as married, they may not be eligible for certain benefits available to legally married couples, such as health insurance or social security.
  3. Challenges in ending the marriage: If the couple decides to terminate the marriage and there is no official marriage record, they may face difficulties in obtaining a divorce. This can be particularly challenging if one party contests the existence of the marriage.
  4. Issues with property and asset division: In the event of a separation, the couple may face difficulties dividing property and assets if their marriage is not legally recognized.
  5. Inheritance issues: If a spouse dies without a legal marriage record, the surviving spouse may have difficulty claiming inheritance or death benefits.

The Practical Implications of an Unfiled Marriage License

Aside from the legal implications, there are also practical considerations to keep in mind if your marriage license is never filed. Failing to file a marriage license can have several practical implications, including the following:

  1. Difficulty in obtaining a marriage certificate: If a couple cannot provide a legal record of their marriage, they may face challenges in obtaining a marriage certificate, which is often required for legal or official purposes.
  2. Challenges in name change: If a spouse wants to change their last name after the wedding, they may encounter difficulties if there is no legal record of the marriage.
  3. Problems with joint tax filing: If a couple is not legally recognized as married, they may not be able to file joint tax returns, which can result in a higher tax bill.
  4. Obstacles in accessing healthcare benefits: If a couple is not legally recognized as married, one spouse may not be able to access the other spouse’s healthcare benefits, such as health insurance or a family plan.
  5. Issues with pension and retirement benefits: If a couple is not legally recognized as married, one spouse may not be eligible for a survivor’s pension or other retirement benefits in the event of the other spouse’s death.
  6. Obstacles in obtaining joint mortgages or loans: A couple not legally recognized as married may face difficulties getting joint mortgages or loans, as financial institutions may require proof of a legal marriage.

How to Resolve an Unfiled Marriage License

If you’ve discovered that your marriage license was never filed, it’s essential to resolve the issue as soon as possible. 

If you failed to timely file your marriage license, you should take steps to correct the situation as soon as possible. Here are the steps you can take:

  1. Check with the issuing office: Contact the office that issued your marriage license to confirm if the license has been filed and, if not, what the procedure is for filing it.
  2. Gather required documents: When filing the marriage license, you will be required to provide proof that you got married, such as the marriage certificate or a signed statement or affidavit from the person who performed the ceremony.
  3. File the marriage license: Follow the instructions provided by the issuing office to file the marriage license. This may involve submitting the license in person or by mail, along with any required documents and fees.
  4. Obtain a marriage certificate: Once the license has been filed, you can obtain a copy of the marriage certificate as proof of your marriage.

Most states have a procedure when a marriage license is lost or destroyed. For example, in Missouri, most counties allow the couple to go to the Recorded of deeds office and sign an affidavit stating the license was lost or destroyed. The county will then issue a new marriage license and marriage certificate. 

Marriage Licenses Can Expire! 

The amount of time a marriage license is valid can vary by state. In most states, a marriage license is valid for a set number of days. For example, in some states, a marriage license may be valid for 30 days or 60 days after it is issued.

If your marriage license expires before the wedding ceremony, you will typically need to obtain a new license to get married legally. 

The exact process and requirements for obtaining a new license can vary by state, but it typically involves paying additional fees and meeting all of the same requirements as the original license, such as providing identification and proof of age.

Keep in mind that each state has its own rules and regulations regarding marriage licenses, so it’s recommended that you contact the county office where you obtained your original license to determine what steps you need to take if your license has expired.

In some cases, you may need to reapply for a new license, while in other cases, the license expiration may require an additional fee to have it reissued. 

How to Know Your Marriage License Was Properly Filed?

If you’re unsure if your marriage license was filed after your wedding ceremony, there are a few steps you can take to verify its status:

  1. Contact the county office: Contact the county office where you obtained your marriage license and ask if they have a record of its being filed. The office should be able to provide you with information on your license status.
  2. Check online: Some county offices have online databases where you can search for information on the status of your marriage license. Check the county office website where you obtained your license to see if they offer this service.
  3. Request a copy of your marriage certificate: If your marriage license was filed correctly, you will be able to get a certified copy of the marriage certificate from the county office. This certificate serves as proof that your marriage was legally recognized.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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