Q&A: What Are My Legal Duties for a Marriage Ceremony?

This eight-point checklist keeps the basics straight for pastors.

Our associate pastor was ordained recently, and is about to perform his first wedding. He is confused about the legal requirements that apply. What should he know?
Here is a checklist of items to consider before performing a marriage:
Am I legally qualified to perform a marriage according to the law of my state? Review your state’s law on the qualifications of ministers to solemnize a marriage. If in doubt, contact your local recorder’s office or the office of the attorney general for an interpretation.
Am I legally qualified to perform a marriage according to the law of another state? Ministers occasionally are asked to perform a marriage in another state. Whether you can legally will depend on the law of that state. See if you can find it online. Or contact the recorder’s office for the county where the wedding will be performed. Ask if you are authorized to perform the marriage and, if so, what conditions or requirements apply.
Is the engaged couple legally capable of marrying? You will need to check your state law for the legal qualifications for marriage. Every state lists certain conditions that will limit a person’s legal right to marry, or even prohibit it. Common examples include persons who are below a specified age, or persons who are too closely related. During premarital counseling, be sure to verify that the couple meets all of the eligibility requirements specified by your state’s law.
Does the engaged couple meet marriage license requirements? Be sure you explain to the couple the marriage license requirements prescribed by state law. Again, you need to be familiar with these. They can be obtained from your county recorder’s office or the office of your state attorney general.
Is the engaged couple’s marriage license valid and current? Be sure that the couple has a valid marriage license with an expiration date later than the date of the marriage. Check the license several weeks prior to the wedding so that any problems can be resolved without changing the date of the wedding.
Is the license valid with the county? Be sure that the marriage license is valid for the county in which the marriage will occur. Generally, a marriage license is valid only if the marriage occurs in the county in which the license was issued.
Am I keeping good records? Be sure you make a record of each marriage that you perform, in the manner prescribed by your state law.
Did I complete a certificate of marriage? Be sure to complete a certificate of marriage (if required by state law), and return it to the appropriate government office.
Remember, if you have any questions, contact the county recorder’s office for information. Many have prepared helpful resources for ministers to assist them in fulfilling the legal requirements. Also, note that in some states an office other than the recorder’s office will have information on marriage requirements. If so, the recorder’s office will be able to direct you to the correct office.
Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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