The Legality of Weddings: Marriage License, Name Change & Prenuptial Agreements

The legality of weddings isn’t the most fun part of the process, but it’s incredibly necessary. After all, you don’t want your wedding to just be one big party – it should be a legally binding marriage, too. In addition to the marriage license and certificate, you’ll also need to consider if you’re changing your name and if you need a prenuptial agreement.

Note: The following is intended to be guidelines on the legal aspects of a wedding, not legal advice. Please always consult a lawyer for your specific situation.

groom signing marriage license

Marriage Licenses

First, what is a marriage license? It’s basically legal permission for you to get married. The certified document you receive after the wedding is the marriage certificate.

You should start thinking about the marriage license several months before the wedding. You’ll want to leave plenty of time for potential hiccups, such as not having a certified copy of your birth certificate, which could delay the process. However, the license is only valid for 60 days in New York State, so keep this in mind as well.

To get married in Saratoga County, you’ll both need: your driver’s license, birth certificate, and know your social security number. If one of you has previously been married you’ll also need a certified copy of divorce papers or the death certificate.

The fee for the marriage license is $40. You can read more about obtaining a marriage license in Saratoga County here >>

You should submit the marriage license a few weeks before the wedding and have the license in hand a week or two before the big day. At the wedding, the officiant signs the license along with the maid of honor and best man (or two witnesses). If possible, get this done prior to the ceremony, since things tend to get quite hectic afterward.

The officiant will then send the license to the county office for you. A few weeks later, you should receive your marriage certificate in the mail.

The Name Change

Of course, before jumping into the legalities of changing your last name you’ll need to decide if that’s the right decision for you. More and more women are choosing to keep their maiden name, hyphenate, or make their maiden name their middle name. Others change their name legally, but keep their maiden name for professional reasons – this is especially common if you’ve really made a name for yourself professionally.

If you’ve decided you’re changing your name in some capacity the first thing to know is that you can’t do that until after you are married. If you’re going on your honeymoon immediately after the wedding your maiden name will be on your airline tickets and so forth.

The first step to the name change is putting your new name in the allotted space on the marriage license. This will then allow you to change your name on your social security card and driver’s license.

The Social Security Card

In New York State, you change your social security card first, then your driver’s license. You’ll do both of these in person. Changing your social security card is free; there will be a fee with the driver’s license.

When you go to the Social Security office you’ll bring your marriage certificate, your driver’s license, your birth certificate (the original or a certified copy, not a photocopy), and the application to change the social security card.

You can find the application here >>

The Driver’s License

When you have your new social security card (new name, same social security number) you’ll be ready to go to the DMV. You’ll need to bring: the social security card, the driver’s license, the marriage certificate, the vehicle registration, and the car title.

Your name will need to be changed separately on the registration and car title. Speaking from experience, the DMV should automatically update all your records when you change your name on your license, but they may not necessarily take care of this, so you’ll have to be proactive.

The fee to change your name on your license is $12.50; the vehicle registration and car title is free.

Read more here on changing your name at the DMV >>

Everything Else

Once your name is changed on your social security card and driver’s license you can update everything else. Other places you’ll need to inform of your new name might include: your employer, banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, the IRS, the phone company, utility companies, your lawyer (to update wills or other documents), the Board of Elections (to update your voter registration), and doctors offices.

A few websites will help you update your name in the appropriate places for a fee, should you choose to go that avenue. and are two websites that provide this service.

The Prenuptial Agreement

Probably the least romantic part of wedding planning: the prenuptial agreement. Many couples will not need or choose not to use the prenup, in which case you can just skip this section. For some, it might be appropriate.

Reasons to get a prenup include: to protect assets for children from a previous marriage (otherwise the spouse is awarded everything instead of the child), if you own real estate or a family home, if you own a family business, and in general if you have any assets you’d like to keep separate from the marriage.

If you’re interested in a prenup, broach the conversation with your fiancé carefully, emphasizing that it does not represent a lack of faith on your part. If your partner brings it up to you first, try not to be offended. The agreement is simply a way to protect familial assets.

Although you can get into nitty gritty details of the marriage in the prenup if you want to – such as who is responsible for doing the dishes – it’s highly recommended to stick to large financial items and assets. A large financial asset might be something like a vacation home on Cape Cod your parents gave you; don’t get into who keeps the big screen TV in the prenup.

Prenups should be fair, and not a surprise. If one person presents a prenup right before the wedding, insisting there will be no wedding without a prenup, a judge is likely to void the agreement.

In New York State, you are not obligated to disclose your finances to your partner before signing a prenup, although you really should do this. If you misrepresent your financial condition that could be another reason a prenup might be voided in court.

Laws regarding prenups are complicated. You and your fiancé should each have your own lawyers advising you on the prenup. Therefore, you’ll want to take care of this a couple of months before the wedding, so both sides have time to review the agreement.

If you’re getting close to the wedding and it hasn’t been signed you can always do a postnuptial agreement after the wedding, which is essentially the same thing. Prenups are more desirable because they’re viewed move favorably than postnups by some courts, but it’s still doable.

When your marriage is legal, your name is changed, and everyone’s assets are protected and agreed upon, you’ll have laid the foundation for a solid marriage. Weddings are wonderful – and a lot of fun! – but remember to keep your eye on what the celebration is all about, and leading up to: a long-lasting marriage.


  • DivorceNet: Prenuptial Agreements in New York
  • LegalZoom: New York State Divorce Laws on Prenuptial Agreements
  • The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day by Mindy Weiss with Lisbeth Levine

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