Getting a Marriage License in Massachusetts
Avoiding the three-day waiting period (community article)
Massachusetts has a three-day waiting period for getting a marriage license, which can be a major hassle for out-of-state couples getting married there. This article describes our experience requesting a waiver of the waiting period for getting a marriage license in Massachusetts.
We drove to Worcester, MA on a Sunday, so that we could be at the courthouse when it opened. We were not getting married in Worcester, but MA law allows you to apply for a marriage license in any MA jurisdiction. We chose Worcester, even though its fees for a marriage license were higher than some other jurisdictions, because the clerk's office and the courthouse were within easy walking distance of each other. Since we knew we would have to go to both, we wanted to minimize the time going back and forth.
The "preferred" procedure in MA is to go to the clerk's office first, then to the courthouse, then back to the clerk's office. However, since the courthouse opened 45 minutes before the clerk's office, and going to the clerk's office first did not appear to be mandatory, we decided just to start with the courthouse. We did not get any questions or encounter any problems using this approach.
We got a little lost going from our hotel to the court, so we actually arrived at 8:30 AM, a half hour after it opened. When we got to the front desk, we were asked for identification. Both of us presented our Maryland driver's licenses. We did not have to provide any other documentation (e.g., of Social Security numbers, or my prior divorce), as is required in some other states. The woman at the desk noticed we were from Maryland and asked, "Do you have family in Massachusetts?" We told her that we did not, but that we could not get married in Maryland. She acted like she hadn't even remembered that places other than Massachusetts wouldn't allow same-sex couples to get married. That was rather refreshing!
We filled out the "Marriage without delay" form and paid the $65 fee, and were then assigned to a courtroom and told to go there. (The fee is $65 for any probate court in MA; it is $195 if you use a district court.) The judge did not arrive until a bit after 9:00. At that point, we had to wait while he decided a couple of other routine matters--ratification of a modification of a child support order, and something dealing with juvenile medical records.
When our case was called, the judge asked why we wanted a waiver. I explained that we were from Maryland, and had not had a chance to get to MA to get the license before, but that our ceremony was scheduled for the next day. That was all he asked us, and then he approved the order. On the way out of the courtroom, one of the spectators stopped us to congratulate us.
We then had to go back to the front desk and wait while the order was processed. We were very glad that we had gotten to the courthouse early, because the front desk had a much longer line by the time we got back to it than it had had when we first arrived.
After we got the written order, we walked over to the clerk's office. There was no line at all there. We filled out the marriage license application and paid the $40 fee, and they issued the license immediately. We were finished with the whole procedure by about 10:30 AM.
Our rabbi had to mail the signed marriage license back to the clerk in Worcester. We were able to tell when the marriage certificate had been issued, because the clerk's office has a search function on its Web site so you can figure out whether a marriage has yet been recorded. Once it had been, we were able to order a copy online at this site.
In short, the process was quite painless. For anyone considering it, we would recommend the following:
- Go the the courthouse first, before the clerk's office. There is really no reason to follow the "preferred" procedure, which involves going to the clerk's office, then the courthouse, then back to the clerk's office again.
- Try to arrive early. We faced only a very short line, but the line got much longer later.
- Know before you arrive what name each of you wants to use after marriage, since that is asked on the marriage license form.
- Allow at least a couple of hours for the process. Even though the court filing is quite routine, it does involve going before the judge and waiting while other cases are processed.