What is a Confidential Marriage in California and Does it Have any Significance in the Event of Legal Separation or Divorce?

Hossein Berenji, Jan 27, 2022

A confidential marriage license is legally binding, just like a public marriage license. The individuals are married and must go through the divorce process to end the marriage. The difference between a confidential marriage license and a public marriage license is that the former are not a matter of public record.

Copies of public marriage licenses in Los Angeles County may be requested from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. However, only the parties to the confidential marriage can obtain a copy of a confidential marriage license.

California Family Code §500 governs confidential marriages. The requirements for confidential marriage license in California are:

  • The parties must be 18 years old or older
  • The individuals must be living together as spouses when they apply for a confidential marriage license
  • The parties sign a sworn affidavit attesting they are living together at the time they apply for the confidential marriage license
  • Couples may be married in any county in California under a confidential marriage license
  • Witnesses are not required at the ceremony or to sign the marriage license
  • The marriage license is registered in the county it was purchased

Authorized Notaries in Los Angeles can issue confidential marriage licenses. The Notary Public must be authorized and approved by the LA County Registrar-Recorder. Authorizing notaries to issue confidential marriage licenses speeds up the process and makes obtaining these licenses more convenient for couples.

Does a Confidential Marriage License Have Any Effect on a Legal Separation or Divorce?

A confidential marriage license does not affect a divorce, annulment, summary dissolution, or legal separation in California. The process is the same whether you have a public marriage license or a confidential marriage license.

California is a no-fault divorce state. You are not required to prove your spouse was at “fault” for the breakup of the marriage. In other states, a spouse may need to prove adultery, physical abuse, abandonment, or other “wrongful action” that ended the marriage before the court grants a divorce.

Irreconcilable differences are enough to obtain a divorce. It does not matter if your spouse wants to remain married. If you want a divorce, you can obtain a divorce by telling the court your marriage is not working and the relationship cannot be repaired.

There is a six-month residency requirement for obtaining a California divorce. They must also be a resident of the county of filing for at least three months. The court will not grant the divorce for six months after the petition is filed, even in an uncontested divorce.

Does a Confidential Marriage License Make Divorce Records Private?

Unfortunately, having a confidential marriage license does not automatically make your divorce or legal separation confidential. Most divorce proceedings are a matter of public record in California. Therefore, anyone could view your divorce records if they know how to access public records.

Some public divorce records are available online. Certificates of divorce can be obtained through the California Department of Public Health. You would need to contact the court that heard the case to obtain some divorce records.

You could file a motion with the court asking the judge to seal the divorce records. However, potential embarrassment related to your divorce records is typically not a sufficient reason for the court to seal the records.

However, some information is not part of the public record. This information is protected because of the sensitive nature of the information.

Information that may not be a matter of public record include:

  • The identity of minor children
  • Adoption records
  • Financial documents
  • Healthcare records
  • Paternity cases
  • Identities of victims of sexual abuse or domestic abuse

The court automatically seals paternity and adoption cases. If the court seals a case, you need a court order to obtain copies of the records.

What Are the Benefits of a Confidential Marriage License?

There are many reasons why a couple would prefer a confidential marriage license instead of a public marriage license. Benefits of a confidential marriage license include:

  • No one can obtain a copy of your marriage license without a court order
  • You do not need any witnesses at your wedding
  • You can get married without press or media interference
  • It might be quicker to obtain a confidential marriage license
  • You can get married anywhere in California
  • Less spam, telemarketers, and junk mail directed toward newlyweds

Privacy is the most common reason for obtaining a confidential marriage license.

Celebrities and politicians value their privacy. However, a confidential marriage license can also be beneficial if you do not want your family, ex-partner, or employer to know about the wedding. There could be many reasons why couples may want to keep the fact they are legally married to themselves.