Our team has relied on Kevin for years not only as one of our go-to officiants, but more importantly, for helping verse our clients in the legalities around using amateaur officiants. His expertise and guidance have been valuable resources to us as planners in our efforts to educate our clients and properly lead them in their decisions surrounding the most critical piece of ensuring their marriage is lawfully established.
Elizabeth Flake - A Southern Soiree Wedding and Event Planning
Marriage Laws in North Carolina
There are two important things to know about marriage laws in North Carolina
Not just anyone can perform your ceremony. In NC you can't just have a friend or family member to go online and get ordained. Online ordination is not considered legal in NC. You can read more details below.
Virtual weddings are not legal in NC. You must be physically present with your officiant and two witnesses in order for the marriage to be considered valid.
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."
Here's what a local attorney specializing in family law has to say about it,
"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:
Friends Don't Let (Online-Ordained) Friends Officiate at Their Weddings
Are You Sure You're Really Married?
Obtaining Your North Carolina Marriage License
As much as we all want to celebrate love and romance on your big day, we also need to make sure that the legal portion is taken care of. Here's some information that I hope you'll find useful.
In order to be married in the state of North Carolina you must apply for and receive a Marriage License prior to your wedding date. Only you and your partner can obtain a license. No one else can do it for you.
Marriage licenses may be obtained in any county in NC and used in any county. In other words, you don't have to get the license in the county you're getting married in. You can get it wherever it's most convenient for you.
Marriage licenses are issued by the Register of Deeds office in a given county. Most counties in this area (including Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties) will allow you to start the application process online (see the end of this email for contact information).
The process of applying for a marriage license in Wake County involves applying online, setting up an appointment for a virtual/video interview and then the license is mailed to you. This process can take 2-3 weeks to complete. Other area counties require you to make an appointment and in some cases this may also take 2-3 weeks.
Many Register of Deeds offices are currently requiring appointments due to COVID-19 restrictions. I strongly recommend calling the Register of Deeds office to confirm their current policies.
Both partners must be present together when you go to the Register of Deeds office to pick up your license.
You will be required to show photo ID (driver's license, passport, military ID, etc.) and proof of your social security number with verification through your Social Security Cards or W-2 Forms.
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 partner not be an American citizen, 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.
I will make every effort to contact you about a week prior to your scheduled wedding ceremony to verify that you have your license. It is illegal for me to perform a ceremony without a valid marriage license.
If you're having a rehearsal prior to your wedding, please bring your license with you and give it to me at the rehearsal and let me know whom you'd like to use as your two witnesses.
If you're not having a rehearsal, you must give me your license before the ceremony begins.
After officiating your ceremony, I’ll complete your marriage license and sign it along with your two witnesses (you've already signed it at the courthouse). I’ll send you a scanned copy for verification purposes and mail your marriage license to the issuing county the next business day.
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. When you receive your license, the issuing county will provide you with instructions for obtaining the certified copy. Most counties will allow you to order the certified copy online and then it will be mailed to you.
And lastly, here are the websites for the Register of Deeds offices in our local counties.
Wake County (Raleigh)
Durham County (Durham)
Johnston County (Smithfield)
Orange County (Hillsborough)