Great Wedding! But Was It Legal? was the title of a recent news story on the question of whether the person performing your wedding is (or was) legally able to do so. The story shared the experience of a couple (one a Chicago lawyer and the other a law student) that chose an outdoor venue for their ceremony. The couple assumed it was legal to have their wedding performed by a friend who had been ordained online. They later learned that the state in which they married was one of a number of places that don't recognize marriages performed by someone who became a minister for the sole purpose of marrying people. The writer states, "With so many people turning to friends and relatives to perform their marriage ceremonies, more are bound to discover that they may not be legally married." The story quoted the Chicago lawyer saying, "The most important thing to us was that someone we knew and liked would marry us." He went on to say, "If two lawyers can be duped into getting married illegally, then anybody can."
Another lawyer specializing in family law said, "If you get married by someone who isn't able to marry you, that's a problem... If you don't have a legally recognized marriage, then your ability to get relief in the event of a divorce goes away." The writer noted inheritance rights could also be in jeopardy, IRS joint returns may be at issue, and most states do not recognize common-law marriage so "time together" may not legalize the union.
One State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in a divorce case that a marriage and prenuptial agreement were void because the officiant's credentials were not legitimate. The court concluded, "...a minister whose title and status is so casually and cavalierly acquired does not qualify for a license to marry."
When a couple raised the question about who can officiate a marriage in Illinois, the officials at the Cook County Clerk's Marriage Unit, replied by saying you cannot simply have a friend get ordained on the Internet like Joey on Friends -- they must be officially recognized by an actual congregation. They explained the law in Illinois states that to be legally married; a judge, an ordained minister of a church, or rabbi of a synagogue, must perform the ceremony.
Beyond the legal aspect of the wedding, most couples consider the integrity of the marriage celebration. Just as you would not want a poorly credentialed surgeon to operate on you - - you surely would not want a "gray-market-credentialed" officiant to perform the most important event in your life.