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Can I Officiate a Skype Wedding?

Skype
Wedding officiants should not perform a virtual ceremony without explicit guidance from a government official or legal expert that specializes in family law. 

Due to COVID-19, weddings are being cancelled, postponed, or drastically changed to accommodate crowd restrictions, and many of our ministers are asking us about performing a “virtual wedding ceremony.”

Basically, officiants want to know if they can perform a legal wedding ceremony via Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime.

In theory it may seem simple enough, but the concept is actually quite complex, and generally speaking, is neither legal nor allowed – for logical reasons.

 

1. The couple and their intended officiant must be in compliance with all marriage laws and officiant/minister registration regulations in the state where the ceremony is taking place, and where the marriage license has been obtained. (We clarify exactly what ‘compliance’ means here in the next few paragraphs.)

2. The officiant must be physically present to sign and complete the marriage license along with witnesses, which must occur immediately after the ceremony. Without the officiant being physically present, the ceremony is just an exchange of words, or spiritual commitment.

3. Marriage laws vary drastically across the country, and it should not be assumed that virtual wedding ceremonies will be considered valid by local marriage laws

 

Allow us to explain further:

A particular jurisdiction – whether a specific county, city, state or foreign country – will only recognize a marriage from another jurisdiction if it was performed following the local marriage laws there. 

For example: If a couple has obtained their marriage license in Ohio, and has their officiant registered to perform marriage there (as officiants are required to do in the state of Ohio), then that is where the marriage must take place and the marriage license be completed – in person – by all required parties. The officiant and the couple getting married must be physically present at the ceremony performed in that jurisdiction. Only then will the marriage be legally recognized by other jurisdictions. 

This is because the power granted by the state of Ohio to the officiant is strictly limited to performing marriage specifically within that state, or jurisdiction. As such, the authority granted by the state of Ohio is void elsewhere. Disregarding this clear limitation on geographical jurisdiction would mean noncompliance – which would result in an invalid marriage.

This actually happened when a couple in Texas had their officiant - who was in Washington, D.C. - perform the ceremony via Skype. Because "marriage statutes in the District of Columbia requires marriages to be celebrated within the jurisdictional and territorial boundaries of the city," their marriage was declared invalid.

 

 

All of this means that ministers and wedding officiants are only authorized to perform marriage in a certain location if they are in compliance with that particular county/city/state's local marriage laws and regulations; their authorization to perform marriage outside of that jurisdiction is otherwise nonexistent. 

It's important to remember that marriage laws differ from state to state (or Commonwealth), and sometimes even from county to county. While it's possible that some marriage bureaus will make exceptions in light of current affairs, it should not be assumed that Skype weddings will be valid across the country, and officiants and couples should be cautious.

Ultimately, officiants should not perform any kind of remote or virtual ceremony without clear and explicit guidance from a county clerk or a legal expert - particularly one who specializes in family law. We've even consulted our own lawyers, and they agree that virtual ceremonies might not meet local requirements, so it's imperative that couples reach out to their local government or family law attorneys before proceeding with a Skype wedding.

 

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