Things to do Before You Say I Do
May 17, 2018

Marriage LicenseSpring has finally arrived and with it comes prom, high school, and college graduations, planning for summer vacation and finalizing plans for long-awaited spring weddings. By this time most of the wedding plans have been completed. The venue and menu have been selected, invitations may have been sent, bridal showers are over and the big day looms on the horizon. But with the excitement and the flurry of activities, the happy couple should be careful not to overlook two essential issues. Remember, first, that a marriage license is essential in Pennsylvania and, second if the bride and groom are choosing to use an officiant to solemnize the marriage, the officiant must meet certain qualifications. The marriage license sounds like a simple matter. Everyone knows that you need a
license to get married! While that may be true, there are specific rules that must be followed to assure that the license is acquired in a timely manner.

If the marriage is going to take place in Pennsylvania, the license must be obtained in
Pennsylvania. Marriage licenses are issued by the Orphans Court division of any of our county courts and can be obtained at the Orphans’ Court Office of any County Court House in Pennsylvania. A properly issued license authorizes a marriage ceremony to be performed in any County in the Commonwealth. So, for example, a license can be issued in Allegheny County and the wedding ceremony performed in Dauphin County. However, prior to the issuance of a marriage license, the person issuing the license must be satisfied as to the identity of both applicants and there is a waiting period before the license is valid. These requirements sometimes are a problem for the unwary.

The Pennsylvania Marriage Law (23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 1101 et seq) requires the following:

  1. No license shall be issued prior to the third day following the making of application therefor. While in person or online applications are accepted, the license must actually be in the hands of the couple at least three days prior to the wedding. The filing of the application does not constitute the issuance of a license.
  2. Prior to the issuance of the license, the person issuing the license must be satisfied as to the identity of both applicants. Followed to its logical conclusion, the Marriage Law requires that both parties appear in person before the issuing person to “pick up” the license and this appearance must occur at least 3 days prior to the wedding date. In other words, the couple cannot appear at the Courthouse on Friday to get a license for the wedding that is occurring on Saturday.

The license is valid for 60 days following the issuance of the license so with some planning, this potential problem can be avoided.

The applicants should also be aware that they will be subject to an oral examination by the issuing individual and the examination is under oath or affirmation. The examination covers at a minimum the basic information in the application focusing on the legality of the contemplated marriage. The parties will also be expected to know the residence, occupation, and birthplace of the parents of each applicant, including the maiden name of the mother of each applicant.

Marriage LicenseHaving satisfied the basic tenant that no person can be joined in marriage (at least in
Pennsylvania) until a marriage license is obtained, the next step is to be sure that the person chosen to solemnize the marriage is qualified to do so.

Marriage is a legal concept, a civil contract, and does not require any special form of solemnization before the clergy, the church or the state. The marriage may be solemnized by the parties themselves provided the certificate is signed by the parties and signed by two witnesses. For the specific requirements for a marriage performed by the parties see 23 Pa.C.S.A Section 1504. However, third parties can solemnize the marriage should that procedure be chosen by the bride and groom. Section 1503 of the Pennsylvania Marriage Law sets forth the individuals and entities authorized to solemnize marriages. Six categories of officiants are listed including Judges, government officials and ‘a minister, priest or rabbi of any regularly established church or congregation’. Historically, the list was self-explanatory and presented little if any questions regarding who qualified as an officiant under the Section 1503 list. However, in recent years, it has become a trend for couples to select friends and family members to solemnize their marriage. To accomplish this, the selected layperson becomes an ordained minister via application filed on the internet. Are these marriages valid, even though the minister is internet -ordained? The answer, at least in Pennsylvania, is that “it depends”.

As noted above “a minister, priest or rabbi of any regularly established church or
congregation” can solemnize a marriage. The question which has been raised in Pennsylvania is whether an internet ordained minister is a minister of a regularly established church or congregation. This issue has been litigated in the Court of Common Pleas in both York and Bucks County. The same ordaining church was at issue -the Universal Life Church. The Counties took different approaches as to what qualified as a “regularly established church”. As a result of the different definitions, one County recognized the solemnification as having been performed by a minister of a regularly established church while the other County did not recognize the individual as having been ordained by a proper .. church”. One marriage was found to be valid and the other void. The validity of internet ordained ministers is a question that remains in flux in
Pennsylvania. Therefore to assure that a marriage is valid, it would be wise to check whether the individual you have selected satisfies the qualifications set forth in the Marriage Act in the County where the marriage is to be performed. Remember – get that license and check the qualifications of the officiant and have a  beautiful day!


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