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City Hall is making it easier to get married

City registrar Patty McMahon helped a couple file their marriage intentions on City Hall’s new computer system.
City registrar Patty McMahon helped a couple file their marriage intentions on City Hall’s new computer system. Steve Annear/Globe staff

Getting married can be a taxing affair, one that often puts couples at odds over minuscule details to make sure the big day is perfect.

Between deciding on steak or lobster for the main course, finding the right location to share vows in front of friends and family, and deciding whether more guests will dance to a live band or DJ, the stress can mount quickly.

But Boston officials say at least one part of the marriage experience doesn’t have to be so complicated: applying for a marriage license.

Boston City Hall’s Registry Division this month put the finishing touches on a system that allows couples to file their marriage intentions on a computer, as an employee guides them through the process.

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The new system, a pod of four kiosks, eliminates the tedious task of filling out the lengthy marriage intention form by hand. It also frees the staff from having to decipher penmanship when transferring the information into a database at the end of the day, city officials said.

“The whole process being electronic now makes it easier,” said city registrar Patty McMahon. “It’s more accurate, it’s more efficient, and we can get [people] in and out very quickly.”

Boston bills itself as the first municipality in Massachusetts to let couples file their marriage intentions by computer.

The registry has been rolling out the new system slowly over the past year, with the help of the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology. But McMahon said her office took the full leap — completely discarding paper, pen, and clipboard — this month when it set up laptops on rolling desks so employees can help couples fill out the digital form.

By comparison, couples used to wait in line for a form, step aside to fill it out, then get back in line to hand it in.

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“I would say before it took them maybe 45 minutes. Now we have it down to 20 or 25,” McMahon said. “You don’t have to go back in line. It’s a pleasant experience, and I think the technology was the key.”

Before couples can be married in Massachusetts, they need to secure a marriage license, which is signed by the wedding officiant and mailed back to the city or town where it was issued.

To do that, they first need to fill out the marriage intention. After completing an intention form, couples must wait three days before they pick up the license.

“It’s the first moment that you’re committing that you’re going to intend to marry this person,” McMahon said. “It’s a pretty important part of the process — more important than the wedding shower, or the bachelor party, or any of those things. It says you’re really serious about this.”

For couples filing their marriage intentions, McMahon said the days leading up to the July 4 weekend are typically among the busiest. On Thursday, some 20 couples came in to file their intentions.

Jillian Henrici and Benjamin Lassel, who are getting married in a few weeks, were in and out of McMahon’s office in just 12 minutes, much quicker than they expected.

“Ridiculously easy,” said Lassel, 34, who had expected to be there for at least an hour.

Stephanie Tetreault, 28, a South Boston resident who returned to City Hall on Thursday to pick up a copy of her marriage certificate, said that when she and her fiance submitted their intentions, they didn’t expect it to be so simple.

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“Actually filling it out took 10 minutes,” she said.

Although applying for a marriage license may be less of a hassle now, McMahon said one thing in her office will never change: couples squabbling over whose surname they will take. “They have heated discussions,” she said.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com.