Marriage laws in California
Below is a list of California’s marriage law requirements and the documents that you’ll need to bring with you when you apply for your marriage license.
- You both must be 18 years or older unless you have parental consent. Under 18? You will need written consent of at least one parent (or guardian) and permission from a California superior court judge.
- You don’t need to be a resident of California or the US to apply.
- Same Sex Marriages ARE allowed.
- Both of you MUST be present to apply and sign your marriage license application.
- There is NO waiting period to get married in California.
- After you’ve received your marriage license it’s valid for 90 days.
- You are required to have a witness over the age of 18 to be present during your ceremony.
Information and documents needed to elope in California
- Full name, address, place of birth, and date of birth for you AND your partner.
- Name and birth places for each of your parents, including mother’s maiden name.
- Valid, government issued photo ID for both of you. Such as: valid driver’s license, passport, military ID, or state issued ID.
- $90-100 cash for the application fee. The exact amount varies by each county.
- For those who have been divorced previously, you will also need to know the date of the dissolution. For a divorce finalized less than six months prior, then you will also need a copy of your recent divorce decree.
Some counties may also require a copy of your birth certificates.
Ok, so you’re legally allowed to get married! How do you go about getting the license needed then?
Where and how to elope in California
You can get a marriage license to any County Clerk’s office, where you will have to appear in person. You can apply online in some counties, but that won’t save you a trip to the clerk’s office. Even if you complete the application online, you may still have to go to the office to pick up your license. It will save you time when you get there, though. Just do an online search for the county name and with the words “marriage license” or “county clerk.”
Here’s what you need to know in general:
- County Clerk’s offices are open weekdays only. They often close at lunchtime and are least busy in the middle of the week. Some locations take appointments, and others stop taking applications up to half an hour before closing time.
- A marriage license is immediately valid only in the State of California and remains valid for 90 days. Keep this in mind if you plan to get married at Lake Tahoe, where you might end up in the state of Nevada instead. Use this guide to find out more about getting married at Lake Tahoe.
- You need Government-issued photo ID: A driver’s license or passport is required for proof of identity. Other forms of ID may also be acceptable if you also take a certified copy of your birth certificate.
- Your married names: Both parties can choose the name they will use after marriage. Discuss this before you go to avoid delays (or worse, fights). You can’t change your first name, but you can choose to keep your last name or use your spouse’s last name. You can create a hyphenated last name like Swift-Perry or change your middle name to create something similar such as Lord Swift Perry.
- Payment: The license fee varies by county, and you can look it up on the County Clerk’s website. You can pay in cash, by pre-printed check with a California address, or a money order written out to the County Clerk. Some locations accept credit and debit cards with an extra fee but check in advance before you count on this option.
- Divorced? You will need to know the exact date your divorce was finalized. If it was within the last 90 days, take your divorce decree with you. Not divorced yet? You will need to be!
- If you previously registered as a Domestic Partner and are marrying the same person, California domestic partnership statutes permit an individual to be both married and in a registered domestic partnership, so long as it is to the same person. If you are in a Domestic Partnership with someone else, you may need to consult an attorney to dissolve that legal relationship first.
Where and how to elope varies by county
In Los Angeles County, you can apply for a marriage license online, but you have to pick up your license in person. You can get information about fees, civil ceremonies and other information at the County Clerk website.
Appointments are required in San Diego County, even if you just want to get a license. You’ll find details at the County Clerk website, where you can also find the current license fee and locations for civil ceremonies. If you print and fill out the application form you find on the website, you can save time when you get there.
In San Francisco County, you can print forms in advance at the County Clerk website. You can also make an appointment through their website up to 90 days ahead of time. Civil Ceremonies are performed at City Hall, weekdays only.
Lake Tahoe is complicated. Part of the lake is in California and part in Nevada, and the laws are different. Some chapels in California issue marriage licenses on premises, but in Nevada, you have to go to the courthouse. More about getting married at Lake Tahoe.
You can be married by a judge, priest, minister or rabbi of any religious denomination who is 18 years old or over. Active and retired judges can also perform the ceremony. You probably know about people getting ordained online which allows them to perform marriage ceremonies.
I myself am ordained, so it’s really easy to not have to search around for an officiant willing to hike to a waterfall, for example, if your trusty photographer can marry you! California also offers an option to get a family member deputized for a day, but it’s a complicated and expensive process.
You need one witness to sign the marriage certificate.
What happens next?
After the wedding ceremony, you still aren’t official. You have to return the marriage license to the County Clerk who will record it and can issue official copies. Ask a trusted person to send this off, your officiant should be able to help you.
Since California is one of the most popular travel destinations and places to elope you will want to check and see when the peak seasons are for the area you’re thinking of eloping in.
Are you planning on eloping at one of the gorgeous National Parks here? You can find the information for the peak seasons for each park on the National Park Services website. For all other locations you can do a simple Google search or talk to a local ranger or guide to find the information.
Also take into consideration that some locations are more popular than others which means they will be more crowded with people during the peak seasons. So if you’re wanting a more private elopement ceremony you may want to do a little digging online to find a spot that’s not as common or more off the beaten path.
On the whole I’d recommend March-May and September-October if you are thinking of Yosemite or one of the popular National Parks. Even with hiking to get off the beaten track, Yosemite gets super busy in the summer.
One of the biggest benefits of eloping in California is that there isn’t a bad time of year to get married. The weather in California is fabulous all year round! Sunshine not your thing? If you’re a fan of atmospheric fog (which I am) then Northern California will be the best place to head to for your elopement. The temperatures do get colder in the Northern part though so take that into consideration.
Southern California stays sunny most of the year, except for the occasional gloomy days in May-June. I didn’t believe it myself but ‘June Gloom’ does exist at both ends of the state! As for the types of locations, Southern California has a wide variety of spots that would be perfect for your elopement. The list is varied, but includes the mountains, deserts, forests, and the many beaches.
For information on the average temperatures and to see what the weather will be like during the timeframe and in the location you’re eloping just do a quick Google search.
Where to elope in California
- Yosemite National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs.
- Redwood National Park & Forests near San Francisco.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
- Sequoia National Forest
- Death Valley National Park
- Pinnacles National Park near Monterey.
- Channel Islands National Park near Ventura.
- Lassen Volcanic National Park near Redding.
- Mammoth Lakes
- Lake Tahoe
- Lake Tahoe Basin National Forests
- Tahoe National Forest between Reno and Sacramento.
- Big Bear
- Big Sur
- Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park and the Pfieffer Beach near Big Sur.
- San Francisco
- Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles.
- Mendocino National Forest near San Francisco and Sacramento.
To see the California State Parks visit the California Department of Parks and Recreation website >HERE<.
And of course any of the beaches along the coast!
Important Note: Keep in mind that you might have to get a special use permit for some of these locations to elope there. You can find this information on the National Park Services website, by checking on Google, or talking with a local trusted vendor in that area.
Leave no trace!
One of your reasons for marrying in our beautiful outdoors is probably because of your deep love and respect for our planet. Bear in mind the seven Leave No Trace principles for planning an adventure elopement:
Plan ahead and Prepare
- Look up regulations before your visit
- Research if a permit is required
- Only bring dogs or pets in areas where they’re allowed and always follow leash rules
- Know the maximum number of people you can bring with you if you’re eloping
- Prepare for extreme weather and emergencies
Stay on paths and hard surfaces
- The use of undesignated trails can lead to erosion, vegetation damage, unsafe trail conditions, and impacts to local wildlife according to this study
- Areas like meadows, wetlands, and places closed for restoration are especially fragile and easily damaged
Leave what you find
- The photos are your souvenirs
- Resist the temptations to pick flowers, stack rocks, or carve your name into anything
Pack it in, pack it out
- Simply pack out your garbage. Also know that things like confetti, as well as biodegradable foods and their peels need to be packed out as well
- Look at this graphic to see how long it takes things like food and cigarette to decompose
- Give animals their space, don’t try to feed them, and always control your pets or leave them at home
- Keep in mind that disturbance from humans can indirectly affect animals’ fitness and population dynamics through energy loss and opportunity costs of risk avoidance in wildlife according to the science behind leave no trace principles
- Minimise campfire impact
Be considerate of other visitors
- The wilderness belongs to everyone. Simply because someone is documenting a special moment there does not mean they have privilege over others.
- If you’d like privacy, consider doing your photos at sunrise, sunset, on a weekday, or avoid peak season.
- I hope you have found this guide on how to elope in California helpful and informative. If you have questions please feel free to get in touch here and I’ll be able to guide you in the right direction.
Looking for elopement inspiration? Check out Danielle & Phil’s recent elopement here in Southern California and if your plans are unsure due to the pandemic crisis, take a look at Cristina and James’ romantic quarantine wedding at home.