Marriage Laws in NC
Getting married in North Carolina is relatively simple. All you have to do is agree to marry each other in front of an ordained minister and two witnesses, and have that minister pronounce you married. However, in North Carolina, it's not quite as simple as having a friend or relative to go online and receive an "ordination" to perform your ceremony.
Online Ordination Isn't Recognized as Legal in North Carolina
Don't just take my word for it. Here's a recent legal opinion by a Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Government:
"North Carolina law actually strongly indicates that marriages performed by persons with no credential of ordination other than a certificate from the Universal Life Church are invalid."
"If your marriage was performed by a ULC [online] minister in North Carolina, there is a very good chance that you do not have a valid marriage.
If you are currently planning a wedding, I advise you to not use a ULC minister."
The Universal Life Church has actually been found guilty of fraud in NC for stating that their ordination is valid in the state. So - how about other online ordination institutions such as American Marriage Ministries or the American Fellowship Church? Legal experts in North Carolina agree that marriages performed by any online institution would also be considered invalid. "If an institution is similar to the Universal Life Church, then a court would treat any marriage performed by one of their “ministers” as voidable as well."
What To Do?
The safest thing to do is to find a professional wedding officiant who is fully and legally ordained by a real church or religious denomination (and just because you need a minister it doesn’t mean you have to have a religious ceremony). Your friend or family member can still participate in the ceremony in a meaningful way while ensuring the legality of your marriage.
Still have questions? That’s what I’m here for. I’m glad to talk with you with no obligation whatsoever. Contact me for information about how I can help you through the process.
“We were considering having my college roommate perform our ceremony but after consulting with our wedding coordinator we decided to go with Kevin. We are so glad we did! All of our guests thought we had known him for years. He was warm and caring throughout the entire process. He’s one of those people that can put everyone at ease and make you feel like family.” - Jacqui M.
The state of North Carolina actually says that marriages may be performed by "an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate." (NCGS 51-1). Furthermore, a "church" is legally defined as an organization which has a "distinct legal existence, established places of worship, regular congregations and ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study". In other words, ministers must have been ordained by a "brick-and-mortar" church (IRS Publication 1828). Unfortunately, there are a number of practicing ministers in NC with online or “mail order” ordinations. While the legal status of those marriages may never be questioned, there is the chance that they could be considered invalid in a court of law.
Here are a couple of other articles on the subject:
Obtaining Your North Carolina Wedding License
Applications are accepted at Register of Deeds offices M-F, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm. Times may vary by county. Click HERE for details on obtaining a license in Wake County. You can even begin the application process ONLINE.
Both partners must be present when applying.
No physical required.
Immediately upon issuance, the license is valid for 60 days.
Regardless of where your wedding is actually held in the state, you may use a license issued at any NC Register of Deeds office, but the license must be returned to the issuing office for filing.
Divorced applicants must provide the date of their divorce and some counties will request an original or certified copy of the Divorce Decree. Because not all counties are uniform in their requirements, it is recommended that you call the office at which you intend to apply to learn of their specific requirements before you go.
Likewise, should either the partner not be American citizens, it is best to call the office at which you intend to apply for your license to learn what paperwork will be required of you.
Both Bride and Groom must present identification;
21 years of age or older may use;
current driver’s license
current State ID Card
current Military ID
Applicants who are 20 years of age or younger must have a certified copy of their Birth Certificate and meet all requirements of their county.
Both partners must provide their Social Security numbers with verification through their Social Security Cards or W-2 Forms.
The Register of Deeds office does not automatically provide you with a certified copy of the license following your ceremony. You must request a certified copy in writing to the Register of Deeds office. Certified copies are $10 each.
COVID-19 Updates as of April 1, 2020
The entire state of North Carolina is currently under a stay-at-home order issued by the Governor. The important things to know are:
The state order says that all gatherings should include fewer than 10 people
Social distancing should be maintained at all times
Cities and Counties are allowed to impose restrictions that are more stringent than those imposed by the state
At this time, neither Durham County or Orange County are issuing marriage licenses.
Wake County is issuing marriage licenses using video conferencing and by appointment only (http://www.wakegov.com/rod/help/vital/marriage/Pages/application.aspx)
Here are the current stay-at-home orders for Wake, Orange and Durham counties. Please note that weddings are considered a "non-essential" activity and travel to or from a wedding is also considered non-essential.
All non-essential facilities, services, operations and retail businesses must close.
Gatherings of any size are prohibited.
People of any age with medical conditions should not leave their homes except to get medical care.
Social distancing must be practiced while in public.
Orange County (http://orangecountync.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=478)
DO NOT go to work unless you are providing essential services
Essential services are outlined in the Order.
DO NOT visit friends and family unless it is urgent
DO NOT gather in public places
DO NOT visit people in the hospital, nursing home, or other care facilities
LIMIT non-essential travel
STAY AT HOME. Except as allowed in this order, all individuals in the City of Durham are prohibited from (i) being or traveling upon any street, alley, or roadway or upon public property, or (ii) participating or carrying on any business activity, or keeping open places of business or entertainment and any other place of public assembly.
Based on all of the above information, I would strongly encourage couples to NOT attempt to get married at this time. These regulations are intended for everyone's health and safety.
In addition - "virtual" marriages are not legal. In order for a marriage to be valid, the couple must be physically present with their officiant and two witnesses.