It’s all about the taxes

The Legal Logistics of Eloping

A quick guide to all of the paperwork behind your “quickie” wedding ceremony. 

By Sydney Davis June 22, 2021

Image: Chris Vela

Eloping can be a spontaneous and romantic way to commit yourself to your significant other. But you know what’s not spontaneous and romantic? All of the paperwork that comes with tying the knot.

Yes, marriage licenses, ordinations, and name changes can be as much of a hassle as a huge guest list or food catering for the full-blown wedding you were hoping to avoid, but we’ve put together a guide on the legal logistics of getting married in Texas.  

What’s the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate?

A marriage license is a government-issued document declaring that two people have been authorized by the state to enter the "Rites of Matrimony." Why do you need state approval for your marriage? Well, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office, a marriage license is often required for various official life events, like buying a house, and, of course, filing taxes. 

When applying for a marriage license, you will need to have a valid Texas I.D. and be prepared to pay the $74 fee—without a valid I.D. from either applicant, you’ll end up having to pay $174. 

After your wedding ceremony, your license, signed by the officiant, needs to be returned to Harris County Clerk's office for verification. When the verification and civil registration of the marriage license have taken place, a marriage certificate is issued by a government official, which proves that you are married. 

Make sure to get certified copies of your license and certificate, as you’ll need these documents during name-change processes and other life events (again, like paying taxes). 

When do I need to go to the courthouse to get my marriage license? 

Getting married at the courthouse can be a long process, and if you’re trying to spontaneously elope this weekend, you might be out of luck. 

The state of Texas requires you to wait at least 72 hours after applying for a license to get married (although this wait period can be waived if you’re in the military, have a written waiver from a judge, or have completed Twogether in Texas’s online premarital counseling program). 

You’ll want to set an appointment further out from your wedding date— suggests at least a week.

Wait, what’s Twogether in Texas? 

If you are looking for a more inexpensive way to receive your marriage license, Twogether in Texas expedites your application process, and it’s cheaper than going through the courthouse. 

So how does it work? You and your spouse-to-be sign up for an eight-hour online premarital counseling course where you’ll learn communication and conflict resolution skills and have broad-level discussions with each other over what your marriage will be. You’ll have activities surrounding topics like family backgrounds and cultural dynamics, plus expectations with children, intimacy, debt, and money. 

The course, which costs $29.97 per couple, allows you to skip the three-day waiting period to get married and it saves you $60 on the license itself. This can benefit many people who aren’t having a big, glamorous wedding and just want to marry the love of their life in a quick and cost-friendly manner. 

Does my officiant need to be certified?

While there’s no official registration process for wedding officiants by the state, the Texas Family Code does have some requirements: An officiant for your ceremony in Houston must be a licensed or ordained minister, priest, rabbi, or other religious organization official “who is authorized by the organization to conduct a marriage ceremony.” Most judges—and some retired judges—are also qualified to marry a couple. 

Why the hubbub? Like a notary, your wedding officiant needs to be certified to make the ceremony legitimate in the eyes of the government.

Anyone looking to become ordained before a wedding can go online and find various websites. We recommend, which provides a checklist of Texas marriage laws. Just remember to check with your county clerk’s office about local requirements.

How do I change my last name?

One of the most tedious marriage processes is changing your name on all important documents. If you do choose to change your name, it’ll take more than an afternoon spent at the DMV. The whole shebang typically takes two-to-eight weeks after the wedding ceremony.*

Here are just a few of the place where you’ll need to change your name: 

  • Social security card 
  • Driver’s license 
  • Passport 
  • Bank accounts and debit/credit cards 
  • Insurance 
  • IRS (you’ll never escape taxes) 
  • Rent/mortgage 
  • Auto-pay payments

Unfortunately, all of this comes with a price. Changing your name with the county clerk usually comes with a fee, according to Texas Law Help, and there are some background check requirements (learn more about that here). 

You’ll also end up paying for some other documents, like your passport and driver’s license (The Knot has an easy guide on name change fees). 

And if all of this is too overwhelming, there are some online services, like hitchswitch, that will fill out all of the paperwork for you. 

*A previous version of this story implied one could change their name with the county clerk's office. This has been corrected.

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