Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Potential Problems with "Religious" Marriages
Ceremonies that don't comply with legal requirements can have legal and tax consequences.

Key point. All states permit clergy to perform marriage ceremonies. However, some states permit only "ordained" or some other classification of clergy to perform marriage ceremonies. It is important for clergy to determine if they are legally authorized to perform marriages under applicable state law, and in addition to be aware of the legal qualifications for marriage and any license and reporting requirements prescribed by state law.

A federal court in Tennessee ruled that a couple who lived together were not legally married, and therefore one partner was not entitled to money damages based on loss of consortium following injuries sustained by the other partner in a traffic accident. A couple had a "religious" marriage in their church, presided over by a church elder. However, the couple never obtained a marriage license. Instead, they testified that they obtained a "certificate" from their church documenting that they had been married. One partner was injured in a traffic accident, and the survivor sued the company that owned the other vehicle for "loss of consortium." The court ruled that only a married spouse can maintain a loss of consortium claim based on the death or incapacity of the other spouse. It concluded:

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Posted: November 1, 2010
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