Nestled between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, Iowa is a hidden gem in the heart of the Midwest. Not only does this state offer spacious landscapes, wide-open skies, and the charming city of Des Moines, but it’s also a beautiful place for a wedding.
Of course, if you’re planning to tie the knot in Iowa, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the state’s unique marriage laws. Whether you’re a born-and-raised Iowa local, or simply a pair of love birds passing through for a destination wedding, there’s bound to be a few things that you don’t know about Iowa’s marriage legislation.
Without further ado, let’s jump in and start preparing for your special day. Read on for everything you need to know before celebrating your Iowa wedding.
Love may be a universal experience, but the process of making it marriage-official can vary depending on which state you’re in. Before you settle on Iowa as the backdrop for your special day, it’s important to brush up on the following ideas:
Marriage License – Your marriage license is the key to a legal wedding ceremony, and it is the documentation that gives each party the right to a wedding ceremony and a legal union. This document can be obtained from your local County Registrar's office, and must be signed on the day of the wedding ceremony—either before, during, or shortly after. The signatures required for this license include you, your spouse, and your authorized wedding officiant. In Iowa, performing a wedding ceremony without a valid license is actually considered a misdemeanor, and anyone associated with the process will be charged with the offense.
Blood Tests – In some states, a blood test is required to obtain a marriage license. This practice was more commonly done prior to the late 20th century, and many states have since abandoned it. The intention of the blood test requirement is to inform each party about any infectious diseases that their potential spouse may have. The state of Iowa does not require any blood tests or physical health examinations in order to obtain a marriage license.
Witnesses – Iowa ceremonies must have at least one witness who is over the age of 18 and acquainted with the couple getting married. This individual is responsible for signing the witness line of the marriage certificate, and attesting to the fact that the ceremony was performed correctly and lawfully.
Legal Age of Marriage – The legal age of marriage in the state of Iowa is 18 years old. That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule. Minors aged 16 or 17 years old may get married with parental permission. Individuals who claim to be 18 at the time of a marriage ceremony, but actually are not, must annul the marriage before their 18th birthday—otherwise the union will remain valid (with or without parental consent).
Officiant Qualifications – Couples looking to marry must hire an authorized officiant to both conduct the wedding ceremony and sign the marriage license. In the state of Iowa, an officiant may be:
A religious leader
Any individual who has been ordained
Common-Law Marriage – Common-law marriage is a partnership recognized in some states as legally binding. A common-law marriage can also provide certain legal benefits, such as visitation rights and health insurance benefits. This process occurs when a couple has lived together for an extended period of time, and present themselves to others as spouses—despite having no marriage certificate or ceremony. Iowa is one of eight states that legally recognizes common-law marriages. Requirements for common-law marriages in Iowa include:
Jointly filed taxes
Shared bank accounts or other financial assets
Domestic Partnership – Similar to common-law marriages, a domestic partnership can provide legal benefits in certain areas of the United States. The difference between a common-law marriage and a domestic partnership is whether or not the couple presents themselves as married to other people. In Iowa, couples may register as domestic partners in order to share health and dental insurance coverage, retirement benefits, and confidentiality protections.
If you’re planning to make your union legally binding, one of the most important steps is obtaining your marriage license. Iowa couples should familiarize themselves with this process to avoid any issues in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. Here’s what you need to know about applying for an Iowa marriage license:
Every state will have its own requirements for the marriage license process. In Iowa, the following documents must be submitted along with the application:
In Iowa, the cost of a marriage license in most counties is $35.
While most states require a cash payment for their marriage license fee, Iowa is one of the few places where a credit card or check are also accepted—although this will vary depending on the county you’re in.
In an effort to reduce divorce rates and ensure that couples are committed to one another, many states impose waiting periods on their marriage licenses.
In Iowa, this waiting period is three working days. This means that couples must submit their application, wait the time period, and then perform their ceremony anytime after. For rare cases of emergency, the county may validate a marriage license earlier.
Marriage licenses are subject to expiration after a certain period of time. This is done to ensure that the marriage is officiated in a timely manner, and the legal document is not left unused for too long.
Iowa allows a six month grace period between the issued date and the expiration date for marriage licenses. Couples must hold their wedding ceremony, sign the marriage license (along with their officiant), and file the signed copy with their county clerk within this timeframe.
After your wedding ceremony is complete, and your marriage license has all the necessary signatures, it must be returned to the County Registrar where it was originally issued.
In most cases, your officiant will perform this step for you. At this point, the county clerk will register your marriage license as public record. Once this happens, your union will officially be recognized by the state; this is a vital step in the process. Be sure to speak with your officiant to confirm that they’re equipped to carry this task through.
In addition to the basic laws and application requirements, Iowa couples should also keep a few other factors in mind. To help you best prepare for your big day, consider the following factors:
Timing the Application – If your wedding day is coming up in the near future, it’s important that you time out your application process correctly. The waiting period in Iowa is three working days, which means holidays and weekends do not count. Additionally, the date that the license application is submitted also does not count toward this waiting period. So, while the waiting period is “three days,” it may actually be much longer depending on when you submit your application.
Getting Certified Copies – When it comes to certified marriage licenses, a single copy usually won’t cut it. If you’re planning on changing your last name, joining your bank accounts, or filing joint tax returns, a certified copy of your marriage certificate is going to simplify all of these tasks quite a bit. In Iowa, couples can request certified copies of their marriage license either by phone, mail, or online through VitalChek—a third-party record vendor used by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Each certified copy of your marriage license is going to cost $15; however, an additional fee of $13 will be added to online orders.
Void Marriages – Certain circumstances can lead to a void marriage or marriage license in the state of Iowa. These include:
Bigamy or polygamy
Marriage laws can be complicated, and we understand that you may have some additional questions. Allow the wedding experts at Zola to clear up any confusion about Iowa marriage laws with this helpful list of frequently asked questions:
Any couple planning to wed in the state of Iowa must file for an Iowa marriage license. No matter what state you live in, your marriage will be valid once the ceremony is completed and the license has been filed with the County Registrar.
It’s important that out-of-state couples remember to apply for their marriage license at least three working days in advance, and make travel arrangements to accommodate for the state’s waiting period.
At least three working days in advance, if not sooner.
Since the waiting period for an Iowa marriage license is three days, but the license will expire within six months, we recommend starting the application process a month or two before the wedding date. This will give you enough time to be prepared, but not too long that you risk losing your license.
The reason Iowa enforces a three day waiting period for marriage licenses is to ensure that the couple is fully committed to their decision. Waiting periods help prevent individuals from making impulsive choices or getting married while under the influence.
In some states, this waiting period may be waived after the completion of a premarital education course. Unfortunately, Iowa does not offer this program.
After the three day waiting period has passed, you may have your wedding ceremony and get married at any point before the license expiration date. Most couples typically have a wedding date set by the time that they apply for their marriage license, but others may be planning a courthouse wedding for the day that the license becomes valid. Either way, it’s important to make sure that you complete your ceremony within six months of the issue date on your marriage license.
A marriage license and a marriage certificate are two very different documents:
Marriage License – A marriage license is a document that gives you permission to legally marry your spouse. This document is signed by both parties, along with an authorized officiant, and returned to the County Registrar where it is stored as public record of your union. A marriage license is a legally binding and essential element of your marriage.
Marriage Certificate – A marriage certificate is not a legally binding document, but rather commemoration and proof that you completed your wedding ceremony. This certificate is kept for personal use, and you are not required to file it with the county.
Now that the paperwork is out of the way, it’s time to talk about the fun part of wedding planning: everything else. Below are some important factors that Iowa couples should consider when planning their special day:
Weather – During peak wedding season—between late spring and early fall—Iowa temperatures will provide the perfect climate for an outdoor celebration. If you’re looking for a location with outdoor, indoor, or hybrid seating, check out Zola’s list of local wedding venues.
Changing Your Name – If you plan on taking your partner’s name after the wedding, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specifics of this process. In the state of Iowa, you’ll need to wait for a certified copy of your marriage license to arrive in the mail. From there, you can use this document to request a new social security card with your updated information on it. You’ll also need to make these adjustments for your license, passport, and banking information, too.
Vendors – If you’re planning a wedding in one of Iowa’s hotspots—such as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, or Iowa City—it’s important to remember that vendors may be booked during peak wedding season. We recommend starting your search for caterers, florists, photographers, and musicians at least a year prior to the wedding date—if not more. Fortunately, Zola users can also check out our pre-screened wedding vendor list, and search based on specific dates and availability. This prevents the heartbreak of finding the perfect vendor, only to discover that they’re already booked on your big day.
Here at Zola, it’s our mission to make wedding planning easier. From the engagement to the aisle, our wedding experts are here to help every step of the way.
In addition to helpful blog posts like this one, we also offer handy wedding planning tools, such as online guest lists and seating arrangements. Couples can also utilize our gorgeous save the date and wedding invitation templates to make sure that their loved ones get the memo in style.
Planning a wedding takes time, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be difficult. Leave the stress behind, and start planning your wedding the modern way—at Zola!