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Legal Marriage

Marriage Licenses
& Certificates

Here's the lowdown

A GREAT deal of confusion exists about the difference and purpose of marriage licenses and marriage certificates. Most people understand what a marriage license is but may be unsure about how to obtain one and what to do with it.

Most people who have never before been married wonder what the #@*& a marriage certificate even is!!!!

Well….we are here to cut through the legal uncertainties and explain (as best we can) what each of these documents is and what purpose it serves (beyond having you send more of your hard earned money to the Province for these pieces of paper) 

Licence vs Certificate?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s quickly pause to explain the difference between the marriage licence and the marriage certificate. 

The marriage licence is the piece of paper you bring to your ceremony and sign with your officiant and witnesses. You need this to legally get married. The marriage certificate is the piece of paper you receive AFTER your ceremony that says you are legally wed. 

Got it? Great, let’s move on.

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Obtaining your marriage license

You must obtain your marriage licence; your officiant can’t get this for you. Neither can your mom, your wedding planner of your best friend. This one is on you. 

You must obtain your marriage licence in the province in which you are getting married. Not the province where you live (if it’s different from where you’re getting married). Not your favourite province. Not the province where marriage licences are the cheapest. If you live in Alberta, vacation in PEI and are getting married in Manitoba, you have to obtain your licence in Manitoba. 

Your marriage licence is valid for 90 days. Licences must be applied for in person by BOTH members of the couple with acceptable ID. The fee for obtaining a marriage license is $100 and vendors cannot charge any more for this document.

To find a marriage licence vendor in Winnipeg click here.

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Marriage License

The Ceremony

You MUST bring your marriage licence to your wedding ceremony. Pro tip: keep your wedding rings with your marriage licence so you don’t forget it! Assign a responsible person from your wedding party or family to bring the license and rings to the ceremony and ensure that your commissioner knows who will have these items. 

After the Ceremony

Phew! You did it. You got married. Congrats! Here’s what happens with your marriage licence once it has been signed by you, your officiant and your witnesses on the big day. 

Your officiant will send your signed marriage licence and all other paperwork to Vital Statistics Manitoba, where marriages need to be registered. You don’t need to worry about registering your marriage – we’ll do that for you! 

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Marriage Certificate

To receive your marriage certificate, you must order it. No marriage certificate or other marriage documents will be automatically sent you. If you do not order a marriage certificate, you will just have to take our word for it that you are legally married!!!!

Along with your marriage license, you will receive an application for a marriage certificate. You must complete this document (along with credit card payment info) in order to receive a marriage certificate.

We can file the application on your behalf along with the marriage license when the ceremony has been completed. The first step in processing the documentation is for your marriage to be registered. This can take 4 - 6 weeks depending on the time of year. Only after the marriage has been registered will your application for a marriage certificate be processed. Add another 6 - 8 weeks before you will receive your marriage certificate in the mail.

*note; selecting "Rush" delivery of your certificate (and paying extra) ONLY affects the delivery time of the certificate - it does NOT accelerate the processing time.

Only when you have received the marriage certificate can you begin the process of changing a surname (if you so choose).

To complete an online application for your marriage certificate, click here.

note* when you receive your marriage certificate, it will display your surname as listed on your marriage license. Your name change process can begin now.

Changing your name

Generally speaking, the name on your birth certificate (your legal name) won’t change, but you can change to your married name for other documents (your driver’s license, credit cards, etc.), as long as you will be using one of the accepted surnames -- your spouse’s name, or a combination of your two names. (If you are choosing or creating a completely new name for yourselves, a legal name change is required, which is somewhat more complicated and costly, and beyond the scope of this article.)

Make a list of all the institutions you need to inform and find out what’s required for each. You may need to show your marriage certificate (once you have received it).

To change your name in Canada, it is your responsibility to contact all relevant government departments and agencies.

The following will need to be updated:

All the ID you carry will need to be updated, as well as bank accounts, credit cards, insurance policies, and so on.

Then, of course, there’s your friends and family. You could casually spread the word about changing your name via social media and such, or send out a formal wedding announcement.

To view a list of some offices you may have to notify if you are assuming a new name, click here.

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