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Wisconsin Court Records

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Wisconsin Marriage Records

Marriage records in Wisconsin contain official documentation on all marriage events in the state. Generally, these documents provide the following details:

  • The couple’s full birth names. 
  • Full names of both parties' parents (may also include their maiden names) 
  • The date of the marriage registration and certification. 
  • The location where the event occurred 
  • Name and residence of the officiating minister.
  • Names of witnesses at the event 
  • The bride's full name before the marriage event.

Wisconsin marriage records may exist as microfilms, online, or physical files. The Wisconsin Historical Society keeps marriage records prior to 1907 on microfilm. Furthermore, the organization provides access to online indexes of marriage records.

Note: Besides the Wisconsin Historical Society, record seekers can find marriage records at designated state or local agencies. 

What Types of Marriage Records are available in Wisconsin?

Public agencies in Wisconsin maintain different types of records, including marriage certificates and licenses. 

Marriage Certificate:

Wisconsin marriage certificates are legal documents that validate a marriage event. Once issued, certificates are generally available within three weeks from the date of marriage. However, these records are not accessible to the general public. Under Wis. Stat. § 69.20(1), only persons with a tangible and direct interest can obtain a marriage certificate from custodian agencies. The list of eligible requesters may include the record subjects, a close relative, or legal guardians.

The law also enables third parties to access marriage certificates under this condition:

  • The person must have an authorization note from the record subject. 
  • The applicant must prove that the data is necessary for the protection of property or personal rights.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services, via the State Vital Records Office, serves as the main custodian of all marriage certificates issued after October 1, 1907. In contrast, the Register of Deeds Office is the local custodian of marriage certificates. 

Marriage License:

Wisconsin’s county clerk offices issue marriage licenses to couples that are legally eligible to marry. To apply for a marriage license, you must fulfill these criteria:

  • Be 18 years old or above. Applicants who are 16 or 17 years old need a consent form from a parent or guardian. 
  • Present a certified copy of a birth certificate. 
  • Submit a document showing your current address. 
  • A copy of a photo identification card and a social security number. 
  • A divorce certificate if previously married.

You can apply for these licenses at any county clerk's office. It takes three days for the clerk to process the application. Nevertheless, you can waive the 3-day waiting period by paying an extra $25 fee.

Note: While certificates and licenses are both marriage records, marriage licenses are not marriage certificates since they are issued before a marriage takes place. Licenses serve as government approval for a marriage event to take place. 

Are Wisconsin Marriage Records Public?

Under the Wisconsin Public Records Law, marriage records created after 1907 are not accessible to the public. However, public members can access marriage index records prior to 1907 via the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

That said, Wis. Stat. § 69.20(1) allows persons with a direct and tangible interest to request and obtain the records after 1907. In this context, eligible requesters may include:

  • The record subjects
  • Immediate family members of the record subject. This list covers descendants, parents, legal guardians, and spouses. 
  • Persons authorized by the record subject. Those in this category must present a signed authorization form from the record subject. 
  • Legal representatives.

Note: Eligible record seekers may opt for a certified or informational copy of a marriage record. Although they contain the same information, you can't use an informational copy for legal purposes. 

How to Find Marriage Records in Wisconsin

You can find marriage records at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services via the Vital Records Office. Note that the agency will only provide access to records via mail-in requests.

To find Wisconsin marriage records via mail, start with these simple steps: 

  1. Download and fill out the Vital Records Application Form. 
  2. Next, attach clear copies of a valid government-issued photo ID. In lieu of an ID, you may add copies of bank statements, health insurance cards, or utility bills. 
  3. Attach the search fee as a money order or check payable to STATE OF WIS. VITAL RECORDS.

    Note: It costs $20 for a copy of a marriage certificate and $3 for an additional copy. That said, the State Vital Records Office will charge $20 for every five-year search from October 1907 to 1973. This means you will pay $60 if you want the State Vital Records to search for marriage records between 1958 and 1973 (a 15-year period).

    However, searches for records from 1973 to the present require only a one-time search fee.

  4. Send all the required files via mail to this address:

Wisconsin Vital Records Office

PO Box 309

Madison, WI 53701.

Conversely, the Register of Deeds Office in each county is responsible for maintaining marriage records. You can find the addresses of these local agencies on the State Records website. Note that Milwaukee and West Allis City's health offices maintain access to marriage records. 

How to Get a Marriage License in Wisconsin

Wisconsin residents can apply for a marriage license via the Office of the County Clerk. Note that the application process may differ in each county. So, here's a general guide to getting a marriage license in Wisconsin.

  1. Book an appointment with the Office of the County Clerk. You may find a contact number on their official website. 
  2. Next, ensure you have these documents:
    • A valid photo ID.
    • A document showing your current home address. This could be a utility bill, dated mail, or a lease agreement. 
    • Birth certificate from both parties. Note that the county clerk will not accept a hospital-issued birth certificate. 
    • Proposed date of marriage 
    • Social security number 
    • Name and contact details of the officiant 
    • Application fee for the marriage license. The cost may differ for each county. For example, Dane County charges a $120 application fee.  
  3. Submit these documents in person at the Office of the County Clerk. It takes three days for the clerk’s office to process the request. Note that you must get married within 60 days of receiving the license.

Note: You may pay an extra fee to waive the waiting period. In Dane County, you may pay $25 to receive the license on the same day of applying. 

Who can obtain Marriage Records in Wisconsin?

Per Wis. Stat. § 69.20(1), only persons with a direct and tangible interest can obtain certified copies of marriage records issued after October 1907. Records prior to this date are publicly accessible and are under the purview of the Wisconsin Historical Society. According to state law, eligible requesters for marriage records include the following:

  • The record subjects
  • Current spouses of the record subjects 
  • Close relatives, such as descendants, parents or legal guardians, and siblings
  • Legal representatives of the record subjects
  • State or local government officials.
  • Third parties authorized by the record subject to receive the document. 
  • A third party may also access marriage records if the disclosure will lead to the protection of property or personal rights.

Nevertheless, all eligible requesters may fulfill these requirements to obtain marriage records:

  • Present a copy of a valid government-issued identification card. 
  • Complete the application form. 
  • Present a duly signed authorization form from the record subject (applicable only to third-party requesters) 
  • Pay the required search fee. 
  • Make an in-person or mail-in request to the custodian agency.

Note: Legal guardians must provide court documents establishing their guardianship.

Can You Lookup Online Marriage Records For Free in Wisconsin

Yes, you can search indexes for marriage records online via the Wisconsin Historical Society. However, the organization only maintains records prior to 1907. Some third-party websites may provide free access to Wisconsin marriage records. To access records on these sites, you may provide details, such as the record subjects’ names. 

Is Wisconsin a Common Law State for Marriage?

No. As of January 2024, Wisconsin state laws do not recognize common-law unions. Since the state abolished common-law unions in 1917, you must be legally married to enjoy marital rights. 

In common-law unions, couples must live together for an extended period of time. Also, they must announce their status to friends and families. 

Does Wisconsin Recognize Common Law Marriages Formed in Other States? 

Yes. Under Chapter 15 of Wisconsin’s Family Law, common-law marriages become legal only when they are contracted in other states that approve such unions. As of January 2024, only eight US states have legalized common-law marriages. This means common-law couples from these states can enjoy full marital rights in Wisconsin. 

What Other Marriages are Legal in Wisconsin?

Domestic partnerships are legal in Wisconsin. The union became legal on August 3, 2009, after the state senate overwhelmingly voted to support it. Although it was mainly reserved for same-sex couples, heterosexual couples have also adopted it.

Couples in a domestic partnership will enjoy marital rights, such as the right to inherit, visitation rights, and access to family medical leave. However, they are not eligible to receive over 1,138 federal rights allocated to couples in traditional marriages.

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