Online-Ordained Ministers Can’t Legally Marry

If you or someone you know got ordained online and has officiated weddings (perhaps your own), the entire marriage may not actually be legal.

By nowproducerdave on April 3, 2018
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Do you know someone who got ordained online? Have they officiated any marriages? Did you have an ordained friend officiate your marriage? It turns out that the marriage may not be legally binding after all. Some people getting divorced have found out that their marriage was never legally official in the first place, and that’s a concern.

People having friends officiate their marriage is popular. It happens for a whole bunch of different reasons – some people just want a friend rather than a stranger, the friend is just super-close to the couple, or it may even be a family member. There are a lot of places where someone can get ordained to perform a marriage. One of the big online ordination websites, Universal Life Church, has ordained over 20 million people, bestowing the power to them to officiate marriages and perform those ceremonies. The website sells “marriage kits,” that come with certificates and the other needed paperwork. Problem is, those marriages performed by an online ordained friend don’t always hold up in court.

There was one example given of a couple who had an ordained friend officiate their marriage. Later at a divorce hearing, one of the people in the relationship refused to uphold the prenuptial agreement, and also refused to pay spousal support after the divorce on the argument that the marriage was never officially valid. Turns out that the judge ruled in favor of that argument, because the person who officiated the marriage wasn’t a “religious clergy member,” per specific wording in the state’s law. That person didn’t lead a congregation, nor does the online service where he/she was ordained follow a specific religion. Also, even though the county clerk’s office may accept the signature from someone ordained online, that doesn’t mean it’s legal. Yeah, that’s confusing and frustrating.

They say that the best method is to just go to the clerk’s office to get legally married, and then have your ordained friend officiate. The deed is already done, and the friend still gets to be a part of the ceremony, and nobody truly has to know, right? There’s a lot more detailed info here to read up on, it’s kind of interesting.

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