People can find out whether others are legally married by searching through official marriage documents, which include marriage certificates and returns or registers. In the United States, couples may be officially married by several different authority figures, including minsters, military officers, ship officers, state officials and justices of the peace. These officials are required to submit paperwork that legally documents the marriage, and is then available to the public.
Records of marriages take several forms, and may be recorded at several levels of government, including municipal, state and federal. The length of time it takes for marriages to be officially recorded depends on several factors, such as the length of time between the announcement of a couple to marry and the date of the ceremony as well as time of year and place of marriage. Although there are several documents used to verify marriages, official marriage documents vary slightly in format and may be held by different people. Marriage certificates are usually provided to wedded couples following a ceremony and may be stored by families and court clerks. Returns and registers are recorded at the county level and, in many states, duplicate versions must be submitted to the state office as well. These documents include the names of newlyweds as well as their contact information and a certificate number.