Every couple must provide evidence of a valid marriage involving a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to complete their marriage green card application. This article explains how to get a copy of your marriage certificate for your application, which alternative documents you can submit, and what to do if there’s no legal record of your marriage.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written May 25, 2022
What Are USCIS’s Marriage Certificate Requirements?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires that all couples submit photocopies of their public or confidential marriage certificates when they file family sponsorship Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative. You must also bring an original copy or an official replacement of your marriage certificate to your green card interview.
Marriage certificates must show the names of both spouses, along with the location and date of the marriage. Suppose your marriage certificate is not in English. In this case, you should submit the original, non-English version along with a translated certified copy in English. If you or your spouse have previously married and divorced other partners, be sure to also submit copies of your divorce decrees or divorce records for all prior marriages. If you or your partner are widows of a deceased partner, their death certificate will prove that the previous marriage ended.
If you or your spouse have had a name change (for non-marital reasons such as adoption or divorce) since the issuance of these documents. In this case, you must submit evidence of any legal name changes. This evidence may include adoption decrees or court orders. Any name restoration orders you submit must show what change occurred and when.
Couples who had religious or traditional weddings may not have official marriage certificates. In this case, you may still be able to prove your marriage’s validity with alternative documents.
How To Get a Copy of Your Marriage Certificate
You can get an original copy of your marriage certificate from a U.S. government agency if you got married in the United States. If you got married abroad, you can obtain an original copy from foreign government agencies. The following sections explain these processes in more detail.
If You Got Married in the United States
You may request an official copy of your marriage certificate from the office of vital records in the U.S. state where you married. Under United States Family Code, marriages become legally recognized when you and your spouse sign your completed marriage license.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the names and addresses of all vital records offices. The CDC also lists the fees for requesting your marriage records.
Another option is to request the certificate from the assessor or county clerk-recorder’s office, city hall, town hall, or civil registrar of the area in which you married. If you got married in Florida, Maine, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Montana, you may have used a notary public to officiate your wedding. In this case, the notary will not be able to issue you a copy of your marriage certificate. You must request your certificate from your county clerk’s office instead.
Processing times for marriage certificate replacements in the United States can vary. Typically, it takes between five business days to 16 weeks.
You may incur additional fees for requesting a copy of the original certificate. This fee can depend on the number of copies you have previously requested and the order method you use. You can usually place a phone, mail, in person, or online order. Depending on the state issuing your certificate, you may be able to pay the necessary fees by check, money order, or credit card. If ordering your certificate by mail, be sure you provide your most updated mailing address.
Some couples may have confidential or restricted marriage records. In these cases, you should include a copy of valid photo ID in your request for the records.
If You Got Married Abroad
If your marriage ceremony happened abroad, you should consult the U.S. Department of State’s website. This website allows you to find the name of the issuing authority in the country where you married. The State Department’s website also lists the fees and procedures necessary to obtain your official certificate. You should navigate to the upper left-hand side of the webpage and click the first letter of your country name. Then, select your country, and click on the tab titled “Marriage, Divorce Certificates.”
What Can You Submit Instead of a Marriage Certificate?
If you can’t find your marriage certificate or get an official copy, you can submit both of the following documents instead:
A notarized personal affidavit describing the facts of your marriage and explaining why you aren’t able to provide an official marriage certificate copy. The affidavit is a sworn statement written by you.
A certified statement from a government agency. This statement must explain why your marriage certificate is not available.
If you are unable to provide the certified statement, you must submit at least two more notarized personal affidavits from other individuals who have personal knowledge of your marriage. They typically include your parents, grandparents, or close relatives who are older than you. The writers must attest to the following information about your marriage:
You and your spouse’s full names.
The date and location of your marriage.
The writer’s full name, address, and place of birth.
The writer’s relationship to you and how well they know you.
How the writer knows about the information they have included in their affidavit.
What Can You Do if You Don’t Have a Marriage Certificate Because You Had a Traditional or Religious Ceremony?
In some places, it may be customary for your culture or religion to hold wedding ceremonies that are not reported to government agencies. If your marriage falls under this category, getting an official marriage certificate may be difficult. In these situations, you should first look at the State Department’s website to review the country’s instructions on obtaining marriage certificates.
Some countries have instructions for this process that will direct you to submit marital proof and other documents in place of your marriage certificate. In many cases, even though you did not have a marriage certificate, your marriage may still likely be legally recognized. You will just need to provide alternative documents when applying for your marriage-based green card. Alternative document requirements may vary from country to country.
However, not all couples’ marriages will be legally recognized. Some countries do not legally recognize religious or traditional weddings and their requirements on the State Department’s website might or might not note this. If your country doesn’t legally recognize your marriage, the U.S. government might still only ask for alternative documents in place of a marriage certificate.
If the State Department’s website does not offer additional guidance, you should consult an immigration attorney who can first review the foreign country’s marriage laws and then give you advice. If you can't afford an attorney, you may qualify for legal aid.