Monday, June 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 15

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 15th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 50 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 50

License to hitch: Getting a marriage license in Santa Barbara County isn't hard, but there is a process


Before considering you and your partner an actual married couple, you technically need permission from the government. In Santa Barbara County and the rest of California, this means getting a marriage license.

There’s really nothing to getting a marriage license, except for a little money and some planning. Unlike some states, you don’t have to go to a court in California to get a license—unless your bride or groom is under the age of 18. In Santa Barbara County—if you live in North County, that is—marriage licenses are issued out of the Clerk-Recorder’s Office at the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Administration Building located at 511 Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria.

In the last five years, issued marriage licenses in the county are on the rise. According to county data, the county went from issuing 5,481 licenses in 2012 to 6,018 in 2016. Wedding ceremonies performed by clerks have risen as well—from 880 in 2012 to 1,383 in 2016.

In order to be officially married in California, you need a marriage license and a ceremony—but not necessarily in that order.

There are two requirements: a license and a ceremony. A necessary—although not necessarily the first—step is getting the license.

Although some may prefer to have a ceremony in the county office before applying for a license, Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy Clerk-Recorder Melinda Greene recommends first making a reservation for one since you can’t have a license without a ceremony.

“You can, it just won’t mean anything,” Greene said.

It costs $23 to reserve a ceremony with the county Clerk-Recorder’s office. You can either come to the Clerk-Recorder’s office or make a reservation online at The county even provides onsite witnesses for an additional fee of $51, unless you’re able to find a person who’s willing to do it for free. A random person will suffice. Sometimes, Greene said, office staff will recommend asking someone standing nearby to be a witness.

There’s no age requirement to be a marriage witness in California, although they must understand they’re witnessing a marriage ceremony.

The second step, according to Greene’s recommendation, is applying for the license. This can be done in person or online. Two things are required: Each person must have a valid government-issued ID card and, if previously married, a copy of a marriage dissolution.

It costs $100 for a public license or $111 for a “confidential” license, which isn’t really confidential since the marriage itself is public record. There are some added benefits to plunking down a little extra cash for this option, like not needing witnesses. Consult the California Department of Public Health website for more information.

One thing to remember, Greene said, is that it’s important for the couple to do the application together and make sure to include all of the required information—including parents’ middle names and proper spelling.

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Licenses only last for 90 days if a ceremony isn’t performed by then. Greene recommends getting a license 30 days before the ceremony is performed.

If you want to avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars (or more) for a wedding, the county performs them at bargain rates starting at $104 to have one performed in the Clerk-Recorder Hall of Records in Santa Barbara and at the Santa Maria location. It costs $116 for a ceremony at an outside premise in Santa Maria or at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. The county’s office can only accommodate 10 people, and flower petals, rice, confetti, and birdseed aren’t allowed.

Ceremonies are performed in English and Spanish, although the county provides instructions on how to get them translated into other languages.

The last, and crucial, step is getting a certified copy of a marriage certificate. This costs $15 if obtained from a walk-in appointment. Additional charges are added if a copy is mailed or faxed.

“It’s really important for couples to get the paperwork right away and close the loop,” Greene said.

Case in point, Greene added, is for insurance purposes. A person may want to obtain a certified copy as soon as possible in order to add their spouse to their policy.

One thing to consider before getting married, Greene said, is change of last name. One law unique to California is the Name Equality Act of 2007, which allows spouses to combine last and middle names into anagrams. For example, if one name is Miller and the other is Smith, they can be combined to form an entirely new name like ‘Smithmiller’ or ‘Millersmith.’

At a minimum, if you skip the expensive wedding ceremony, it costs anywhere from $219 to $316 to get hitched in Santa Barbara County. It’s a little bit of money, but it’s a small price to pay for a lifetime of love, companionship, and tax benefits.

Not only that, Greene added but you get your money’s worth. The license is copied and stored in multiple locations and forms—including microfilm—ensuring that it’s never lost.

“Your record is protected,” Greene said, “and that’s the bottom line.” 

Staff Writer David Minsky can be reached at

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