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What is a Confidential Marriage License?

Posted by Lee Zavatsky | Dec 13, 2022

If you're getting married, the first step is to get your marriage license. California offers a standard public marriage license and a confidential marriage license, which is also legally binding.

This means a married couple will have to go through the standard divorce process to end their marital relationship, called a “dissolution of marriage.”

Thus, the primary difference between a public marriage license and a confidential marriage license is that they are not a matter of public record.

Confidential Marriage License in California
Confidential marriage licenses are not a public record.

California's Family Code 501 says, “a confidential marriage license shall be issued by the county clerk upon the personal appearance of the parties to be married and payment of fees required by Sections 26840.1 and 26840.8.”

Related California Family Code 511 says that confidential licenses are not open to public inspection except by a court order.

On the other hand, public marriage licenses are available to anyone for any reason. For example, marriage information can be requested from Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.

The public information will include the couple's full names, dates, birthplaces, and parents' names. However, the couple involved can only obtain copies of a confidential marriage license.

To apply for a confidential marriage license, a couple has to say they live together, but it doesn't matter because they are not required to provide proof. Further, there is no required minimum length of time for cohabitation.

Also, since it's private, no witnesses must be present at the ceremony to sign the license. Let's review this topic in more detail below.

What Are the Requirements?

In California, the requirements to obtain a confidential marriage license are as follows:

  • The couple has to be living together as spouses and sign an affidavit,
  • They must be at least 18 years old or older,
  • Witnesses are not required to be present or sign the marriage license.

Unlike a standard license, the couple can be married in any California County, and the marriage license will be registered in the county where it was purchased.

A notary public can issue a confidential marriage license in Los Angeles County, but the LA County Registrar-Recorder must first approve them.

Why Would a Couple Seek a Confidential Marriage License?

There are numerous reasons why someone would want to obtain a confidential marriage license rather than a traditional public one.

Perhaps they are celebrities, professional athletes, high-net-worth executives, or politicians who must keep their personal lives private. Maybe they don't want their family to know they were married.

Some people might prefer privacy and keep others out of their business. There are several benefits of having a confidential marriage license in California, such as:

  • You can keep the marriage private,
  • It's faster and has fewer requirements,
  • There is no requirement to have a witness,
  • You are allowed to get married anywhere in the state,
  • Without a court order, nobody can get a copy of the marriage license,
  • For celebrities, you can get married and keep it out of the media.

The primary reason people seek a confidential marriage license is related to the issue of privacy, which has wide-ranging reasons.

Are Any Divorce Records Private?

No. If you have obtained a confidential marriage license, your divorce is not kept private, as most California divorce proceedings are accessible public records.

Are California Divorce Records Private?
Divorce proceedings are accessible public records.

In other words, if you get divorced, anyone will have access to the divorce records, and some could be available online.

However, you can ask the judge to seal your divorce records, but you will need a valid reason for the judge to grant such a request, and being humiliated is not one of them.

The California Department of Public Health keeps copies of divorce certificates, but the detailed divorce records are only available in the family court where the divorce occurred.

However, certain information is not ordinarily available through public records because of its sensitivity, such as the following:

  • Names of minor children,
  • Victims of domestic violence,
  • Financial documentation,
  • Healthcare documents,
  • Issues related to paternity.

If the California family law court decides to seal a case, then you need a court order to obtain copies of the records.

Does a Confidential Marriage License Affect Divorce?

No. If you obtained a confidential marriage license in California, it does not affect a divorce, separation, annulment, or summary dissolution.

California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning spouses don't have to prove their spouse is a fault to end the marriage, such as adultery or domestic violence.  It just doesn't matter, and nobody cares.

Does a Confidential Marriage License Affect Divorce?
Call our divorce lawyers to review your case.

In other words, the family law courts will grant a dissolution of marriage if you seek one. Irreconcilable differences are sufficient, and you can still get divorced even though your spouse may oppose it.

The divorce process remains the same whether you have a public marriage license or a confidential marriage license.

For example, there is still a six-month residency requirement to get a California divorce. Couples must also be residents in the county where they are filing for a divorce for at least three months. The family law court will not grant a divorce for six months after the petition is filed, even for uncontested divorces.

Furman & Zavatsky, located in the Los Angeles County San Fernando Valley area, provides family law legal representation across California. Contact us for a free case consultation via phone or fill out the contact form. 

About the Author

Lee Zavatsky

Lee Zavatsky is a partner at Furman & Zavatsky, a law firm dedicated to the practice of Family Law. Mr. Zavatsky has been selected as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers, a professional organization composed of the top trial lawyers from each state or region who are under the...

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