Marriage is an important step in the lives of two individuals, and a marriage certificate is the legal document that proves to the world that this event took place. Like many important documents, it requires the signatures of the two parties and may require witness signatures as well.
Can a notary certify a marriage certificate? Generally the answer is no. And only the state agency where vital records are kept can issue a certified copy of the certificate. However, a notary can notarize the signatures on the document.
Notarizing Important Documents
An individual gets his signature on a document notarized to establish that he actually signed it. For example, the signature on a deed transferring real property, on a will and/or on a power of attorney must usually be notarized.
Even when the law does not require that a particular document be notarized, signing in front of a notary can help to prove the document later. For example, there is no legal requirement that a landlord and a tenant sign a lease contract before a notary, but doing so is perfectly legal and can avoid issues about identity later.
Notarizing Signatures on Marriage Certificates
Individuals getting married are asked to sign a marriage certificate, a document that evidences their legal union. Notaries can notarize the signatures of the spouses on the certificate. In fact, in some states, like Alabama, the law requires that the signatures of the couple on a marriage certificate be notarized. In other states, the signatures of witnesses on the certificate are sufficient.
Certifying a Document
Notarizing a signature is different from certifying a document. Generally, the job of a notary is to notarize the signatures on documents. For example, a notary asked to notarize the signature on a power of attorney will need identification from the person signing the POA, have the person swear under oath to his identity, then notarize his signature. The notary does not "notarize" the POA itself.
While a signature is notarized, a document is certified. The idea of certifying a document is to establish that a particular copy of a document is a true and correct copy. For example, if an attorney wishes to appeal a case for a client, he obtains a certified copy of the record below, that is, a copy that the court clerk certifies to be a true and a correct copy of the official record.
In some states, like Pennsylvania, notaries are authorized to certify that a document is an accurate copy of an original document. But many states, including Pennsylvania, do not allow a notary to certify federal, state or county records, including vital records.
Read More: How to Certify Copies of Documents
Prohibition on Certifying Vital Records
Generally, notaries do not certify copies of vital records like birth, death or marriage certificates. The originals of these vital records must be filed with the appropriate public record office and certified copies are available from the same office.
The agency/office charges a fee for providing a certified copy of an original vital record and is usually the only authority allowed to issue certified copies of the vital record. If an individual wants a certified copy of her marriage certificate, she must contact the agency and buy one.
Some states have laws directly prohibiting notaries from certifying copies of any vital record documents. These include Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas and Texas.
Certifying the Signature of a Document Custodian
On the other hand, a notary may notarize the signature of the official custodian of a document. In California, this is known as a “Certification by Document Custodian.” The idea is that a person has a copy of an official record or document and swears before a notary that the copy is complete and accurate. The notary in this case authenticates the custodian's identity, takes his oath and fills in the Certification of Document Custodian notarization certificate.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.