Can Uncle Billy Perform Your Wedding Ceremony?
Updated: Mar 22
Recently engaged? Congratulations! Now to find a venue, pick a date, start planning… the list goes on and on! You want to celebrate with your friends and family so you’ll spend hours picking just the right caterer and making sure you have a DJ who can keep your guests partying through the night, but what about the ceremony? Are you giving thought to the one thing that really makes this a wedding and not just a big (expensive!) party?
And who’s going to perform the ceremony? Maybe your college roommate? How about Uncle Billy? He teaches Sunday School and maybe he could go to one of those websites where you can get ordained online. I'm sure that Uncle Billy is a fine fellow but before you go too far in that line of thinking maybe you should take this little quiz and see what you know about the marriage laws in North Carolina.
Do You Know the Answer?
According to marriage laws in NC, who of the following is legally authorized to perform your wedding ceremony?
a. A judge
b. A magistrate
c. A friend who is ordained online
d. A minister of a church or recognized religious denomination
e. Uncle Billy who paid $20 to get ordained on the internet
If you hesitated or didn't select B and D, then you're just like many couples who are unaware of the legal requirements for being married in North Carolina. Here are some facts to help you along the way.
In some states, anyone can go online and receive a “certificate of ordination” and become a minister for purpose of performing wedding ceremonies. The most common organization is called The Universal Life Church (ULC). The ULC claims that their ordination is valid in all 50 states, but…
Did you know…
According to a local attorney specializing in family law, "If your marriage was performed by a ULC 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."
According to the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, “There are two types of marriage ceremonies: religious or civil. A religious ceremony must be performed by an ordained minister. Marriages performed by ministers of Universal Life Church after July 3, 1981 are not valid marriages.”
The Universal Life Church has been found guilty of fraud by claiming that their ministers are valid in NC. In the state of North Carolina all marriages performed by so-called online ministers have been found invalid whenever they have been challenged in court.
What 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."
Why all the confusion?
According to North Carolina law, a couple may be married by “an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate”. And, 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). Organizations such as the Universal Life Church don’t meet this requirement.
Here’s where it’s confusing. Anyone reading this blog post can perform a wedding ceremony in front of a couple, sign the marriage license, take it to the Register of Deeds office and turn it in without any questions being asked. Easy, right? Yes, until something horrible happens like divorce, the death of a spouse, child custody battles, property rights, spousal benefits, etc. Every time a North Carolina marriage performed by an online-ordained minister has been challenged in the courts it has been overturned.
And it gets even more confusing when there are people who claim to be wedding ministers and officiants who are ordained online and market themselves as professional wedding officiants. Marriages that they perform will not hold up in a court of law.
What to do?
Sure - you can have a friend or family get ordained online and perform your ceremony and then take your chances that nothing will ever happen and that no one will question the legality of your marriage. But this is your marriage. It’s a big deal. Do you really want to take that chance?
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. I can help you find a way to ensure the legality of your marriage while still having your friends or relatives participate in the ceremony in a meaningful way. And just because you need a minister it doesn’t mean you have to have a religious ceremony. I’m glad to talk with you and discuss your options with no obligation whatsoever.
Here’s what one couple had to say about choosing to work with me after considering having a friend to do their ceremony.
“We were considering having my fiance's 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.” - Jaclyn M.