California No Longer Allows You to Get Married Online After End of COVID-19 Emergency

The end of California's Covid-19 State of Emergency means most people can't get married online in the state.

By , Legal Editor
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In 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order (N-58-20) to allow couples to get marriage licenses and have their marriages solemnized (in a ceremony) online, via live videoconferencing. The original order was extended (in Executive Order N-71-20) until the end of California's Covid-19 State of Emergency.

On February 28, 2023, Governor Newsom issued a proclamation terminating the State of Emergency. This means that, for now at least, Californians must get their marriage licenses and have their marriage ceremony in person—unless they qualify for one of the limited exceptions.

How to Get a Marriage License in California

Under current California law, couples must show up in person at the county clerk's office to get a marriage license. There are two exceptions:

  • If either or both of the people getting married are physically unable to appear in person (for instance, because they're hospitalized or incarcerated), the clerk may issue the license to the officiant who will be performing the marriage. The officiant must present a notarized affidavit (signed by both people getting married as well as the officiant) explaining the reason they can't appear in person.
  • If members of the U.S. Armed Forces can't appear in person while serving overseas in a conflict or war, they may have an attorney appear on their behalf (with a signed power of attorney) to get the marriage license.

(Cal. Fam. Code §§ 359, 420, 426 (2023).)

California's Requirements for Marriage Ceremonies

California doesn't require any particular form or procedure for a wedding ceremony (called "solemnization" of marriage in state law), but the law does require that couples appear in person before an officiant (and at least one witness) to declare that they take each other as spouses. Military members serving in a conflict may have an attorney appear for the solemnization on their behalf. But there's no "physical inability" exception for the requirement to have the marriage solemnized in the physical presence of the officiant (presumably because the officiant could come to person who can't travel). (Cal. Fam. Code §§ 420, 422 (2023).)

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