While the laws in some states are very clear around the legality of online ordinations, North Carolina is perfectly muddy on the issue. The NC Supreme Court has rulled that marriage performed by Universal Life ordained ministers are legal if they were preformed prior to their ruling but did not address those done afterwards. There are also legal decisions in individual court cases that address the legality of on line ordinations , while the legislature has not addressed it in any fashion.
I am including the links to relevant court cases in this discussion at the bottom of this post. So you can read the legal documents. However, I would like to take just a moment and give you some perspective on this situation. No officiant performs a wedding with the idea that the marriage is going to end up in divorce court. We also realize that things happen in life and our wishes are not always the reality. Therefore, it is important that we help couples make informed decisions.
In January I was talking with a family lawyer out of the Burlington area. She had recently worked with a widow on a contested will. The couple got married by someone who was ordained online. This was a second marriage, later in life, for both of them. They did all the correct things concerning final wishes, a medical power of attorney, wills etc. Upon the death of the husband, his children stepped in and contested the will, which had left the home to the widow, along with dividing up the assets between the children and the widow. The court ruled that the marriage was invalid because the officiant was ordained online, therefore community property laws were not applicable to the marriage, and since the will had been based on an invalid marriage, it was not valid. This widow, who had nursed her husband through a long and debilitating illness and death, lost everything she thought she had in place to protect herself.
In other situations, couples can find that their marriage is ruled invalid. As long as things are going along great in the marriage, both parties assume they are married, behave as a married couple (file joint taxes, purchase home, etc) there is no concern or questions about the validity of the marriage. It is when something goes awry in the marriage that problems come up. When these problems arise, it often means that someone loses out on security and support they thought they had in place for many years.
In the past several years, there have been at least 3 cases brought before the North Carolina courts challenging the validity of marriage performed by Universal Life Church (ULC) ordained ministers. The results of these cases were that the marriage, performed by a ULC ordained minister, was determined to not be a valid marriage. Once a marriage is determined to not be valid, all the legal protections offered to married couples are also not valid. Are you willing to take this risk with your marriage?
Each of these links will take you back to court documents about the cases or to a great blog post by a law professor about marriage laws in NC. They are not easy reading, but very informative.
Recognize that we can’t give legal advice, only an attorney can do that. Also, recognize that in North Carolina, the Register of Deeds does not determine who is eligible to perform weddings, their only task is to determine who is eligible to get married and record that marriage. When asked, we recommend that you talk to your family attorney for advice.
To learn more about how we can help you with your ceremony and remove the risks, contact us to schedule a short phone call.
What folks say about choosing us after considering having a friend or family member do their ceremony:
“We were considering having a friend perform our ceremony, but ultimately decided to go with a professional. We chose Rev. Jac and it was one of best decisions we made in all of our wedding planning, if not the very best. He put together a terrific ceremony for us, incorporating and learning about some of the Jewish traditions we wanted to use, and was incredibly friendly and helpful throughout. After the ceremony, many friends and family commented on positively on the ceremony, many saying it was one of the most beautiful they’ve seen. Rev. Jac did a terrific job, helped alleviate much of the stress about the process, and is a generally great guy. We highly recommend him!” -Josh and Laura Barrer
“Jac preformed my ceremony after less than 24 hours notice! At my rehersal the night before the officiant we had hired decided not to show up and as a bride I was a stressed freaking out mess! But one phone call and had jac and Liz saved the day! I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my ceremony it was more perfect than I could have ever dreamed up!”–Jacalyne
“Rev. Jac is a wonderful man, great to work with. I had an other officiant lined up and he failed to be able to marry us and this was one week from our wedding date. We found Rev. Jac and he cancelled his trip, so he could be there at our wedding to marry us. I was shocked when he cancelled his trip he had planned for a while. He worked with us and even gave us ideas of things to do in our wedding we had never thought of, he did above and beyond what we expected. Our wedding was perfect ” -Ashley H