You just got engaged! Congratulations!
Well, depending on what kind of wedding or civil union you have in mind, this next phase in your life could involve anywhere from 2 years to 24 hours. This article will not focus that much on the planning aspect of what happens next (although we have a few basic getting started tips), but rather the actual requirements and steps to legally get married in Chicago and Cook County, Illinois.
1. Figuring out what kind of wedding you want (and can afford) involves a lot of factors that you and your sweetheart need to first discuss with each other. Your financial state and life priorities can vary greatly depending on what age you are when you decide to marry. A couple's shared goals at age 22 are usually very different than at age 28, 33, 40 or beyond. What ever your shared dreams are as a married couple, the wedding is only part of your future plans together, so your decision for those plans are a very personal choice. Once the two of you have a general idea in mind, then of course, the wedding day typically also involves family, so having a family discussion about planning, funding (will family be helping with costs, or will you be paying for the event on your own?) and establishing a budget outline are your first steps.
Tip: for general cost estimates and sample wedding budgets we suggest http://www.costofwedding.com
2. Plan the wedding or elopement (yes, even minor planning is needed for an elopement). There are tons of web sites, magazines, books and software to help with this. Or, you can hire an experienced and qualified event planner. In the Chicago area, we recommend starting by picking up a copy of Chicago Style Weddings magazine. It is organized like a planning guide and has a standard planning schedule of what tasks to check off your list each month. For this blog post, we're going to leave it at that.
3. Get married!
Now, to actually get married or have a civil union in Chicago, the city and Cook County web sites have several pages with information, however, it can be tricky to find all of the specific information that you need. So really, the purpose of this post is an effort to centralize all of the important information right here!
Step 1: Prepare to get your marriage license. To get married in Illinois, couples must get their marriage license issued in the county where they are planning the marriage ceremony to take place. In Chicago, and closest suburbs, that is Cook County. Generally Illinois, and specifically Cook County, are not very strict with legal requirements, but there are some eligibility laws, required legal identification, and the license fee is $60. For more general information:
Applying for a Marriage License: http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/vitalrecords/marriagelicenses/pages/default.aspx
Applying for a Civil Union License: http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/vitalrecords/civilunionlicenses/Pages/default.aspx
**** UPDATE NOVEMBER 2013 -- ILLINOIS HAS PASSED MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN OUR STATE. SAME-SEX COUPLES WILL BE ABLE TO APPLY FOR MARRIAGE LICENSES IN ILLINOIS STARTING ON JUNE 1, 2014. ****
Step 2: Go to get your marriage license. You will need to apply for your civil union or marriage license together and in-person. You may do this at any of the six Cook County Clerk's vital records offices in the area. Five of the locations are in the suburbs: Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Markham and Bridgeview. There is one location in the city of Chicago, at the Daley Center -- 50 W. Washington St., East Concourse, Lower Level 25.
Click here for more information on Cook County Vital Records locations: http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/aboutus/hours_locations/Pages/VitalRecords.aspx
IMPORTANT!!! The marriage license is issued while you wait and is good for 60 days. There is a 24-hour waiting period, so you have to wait at least one day before you can legally get married. This is especially important information for couples who live outside of the county or state and are planning a wedding or elopement in Chicago or suburban Cook County. So, plan your travel accordingly to obtain your marriage license at least 24 hours (but we suggest 48 hours, just in case) before your scheduled ceremony time.
Step 3: Check your issued marriage license has all the correct information. Before you leave the clerk's office, be sure your legal names are spelled correctly, and your age is correct. If this information does not match your drivers license or or other legal identification documents, it will be a big headache to fix later.
Step 4: On the wedding day, remember to bring your marriage license and mailing envelope provided by the county. If you are having a big wedding day, it helps to delegate the best man, maid of honor, sibling or a parent to be in charge of bringing the license and giving it to your officiant. If you are eloping or having a small wedding, of course you may do this yourself.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE FOR COURT HOUSE WEDDINGS OR ELOPEMENTS!!! Marriage court is NOT located in the same building downtown where you get the marriage license. Marriage Court in Chicago is located at 119 W. Randolph St., Lower Level (City Hall building). Although, these buildings are close to each other, so if you get the locations mixed up, you won't have to go far to find the correct location. No appointments accepted, first come first served. The fee is $10. Here is more information about hours and locations for marriage and civil union by a judge in Chicago or suburban Cook County: http://www.cookcountycourt.org/ABOUTTHECOURT/MunicipalDepartment/FirstMunicipalDistrictChicago/MarriageandCivilUnion.aspx
Also, in the City of Chicago, on select Saturdays throughout the year, Marriage Court judges hold brief ceremonies for a couple hours in the morning at the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. You have to call to find out the available dates, and go in person to Randolp St. Marriage Court to make your appointment for a specific designated time for your ceremony. These special dates and times typically get booked in advance, especially during popular times of year. Call 312.603.5660 for information, or go here on the City of Chicago's website (scroll down to the bottom of the page): http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_culturalcenter-thingstodo.html
Step 5: After your ceremony, your officiant will fill out the marriage license. You can make this a ceremonial moment with your photographer capturing the signing, or the officiant can just fill it out while you're getting hugs and kisses. The officiant is then responsible for delivering your completed marriage license to the county office. When you are issued the license, you also receive an envelope with the county office address already printed on the envelope. It just needs a postage stamp, or the officiant can deliver it in person if they prefer.
Step 6: Order an official copy of your marriage certificate. Cook County does not automatically send you a copy of your offical marriage certificate. You will need to order this after the wedding. There are several ways you may order your certificate, including online. (You should order at least 2-3 certified copies....see step 7).
Here is more general information about Cook County Marriage Certificates: http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/vitalrecords/marriagecertificates/Pages/default.aspx
Direct link to ordering a standard marriage certificate online: http://cookcountyvitalrecord.com/
The county also offers special decorative commemorative certificates: https://commemorative.cookcountyclerk.com/
Step 7: Changing your name. Not everyone does this, but if either spouse is changing their name after getting married, you will need several certified copies of your marriage certificate. The good news is, you do NOT have to go through the legal name change court process with a marriage name change (which is really good news, because to change your name in court costs nearly $400!). The bad news is...it is a hassle.
You should first change your Social Security card, here is information on Social Security Administration web site: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber/ss5.htm
Then, after you receive your new Social Security card, go to your local DMV to request a new driver's licence, update your vehicle registration and title. There are many other legal documents or financial institutions where you'll also need to update you name, such as your passport, with your employer, bank, insurance, post office, credit card companies, etc. Some of these you can do over the phone, but in some cases be prepared to provide additional certified copies of your marriage certificate. Sounds like a big hassle, yes? Well, there are online name changing services that can make things easier....for a fee....such as MissNowMrs.com.
Step 8: Enjoy your marriage!