A look at how different states are handling the legality of virtual weddings during the pandemic.
You’ve already dreamed up the *perfect* wedding hashtag and backyard set-up for your virtual wedding. Now you’re here….wondering how this whole Zoom wedding works and whether it is considered legal where you live. Before jumping into how the legality varies state by state, let’s revisit the basic steps of how to get married and make it official.
Step 1: Set up an appointment with your county clerk to obtain a marriage license. Make sure to check beforehand to see if your county’s offices are still open or if you will need to set up a virtual appointment.
Step 2: Visit the county clerk (whether in person or virtually) and bring required documents.
Here’s what you’ll need to bring along:
- Proof of identity (check state requirement, typically a license or passport)
- Witness (Not all states require)
- Parental information (DOB, full names, birth state, dates of passing)
- Certificate of the previous divorce or partner death (if applicable)
- If you’re under 18, you’ll need a parent present
- Marriage license fee money
Step 3: Get your signatures. This varies state by state, but you will most likely need signatures from your officiant and witnesses. **Note, some states require the officiant to be present to sign the marriage license in person, some allow it to be mailed back and forth. We will visit this later in the article.
Step 4: GET MARRIED! Pop the champagne and then pop on over to the county clerk’s office (or mail) to return the signed marriage license.
Now that the basics have been covered, let’s take a look at how these laws can vary state by state. Before the global pandemic, laws were fairly strict surrounding the legality of weddings and officiants. For a marriage to be considered legal, the couple and the officiant had to be physically present together. They also had to obtain a marriage license in person from the county clerk’s office. However, this posed a major issue as the virus began to spread and social distancing went into effect and many county clerk offices were closed.
On April 18, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in regards to virtual weddings. This order would allow New Yorkers to obtain marriage licenses virtually and officiants to perform ceremonies via video conference. *And all the COVID brides said AMEN!!* However, if you and your partner are not New Yorkers–fear not. This order from Cuomo seemed to have a domino effect as other states began making similar shifts to allow couples to get married virtually.
Are virtual weddings legal in California?
According to the L.A. Times, on April 30, Governor Gavin Newsome signed a similar executive order allowing couples to get married virtually. This makes it legal for officiants to wed couples virtually. However, obtaining a marriage license varies county by county:
- Los Angeles County offices have been closed since March 16 and are not issuing licenses.
- Orange County and Ventura County offices are available to issue licenses by appointment only.
- Riverside County offices are issuing licenses virtually through teleconferencing.
Are virtual weddings legal in Illinois?
According to American Marriage Ministries, couples CAN apply for a marriage license via videoconference and officiants can perform weddings via videoconference.
The only disclaimer here is that the couple and the officiant must interact on the Zoom call in “real time”…meaning there cannot be any pre recorded “I Dos”.
Are virtual weddings legal in Florida?
In Florida, it is NOT considered legal to have a virtual officiant that is not present on site with the couple, according to American Marriage Ministries. However, if couples want to have a smaller “micro wedding” they can still stream the ceremony and reception to guests, but will need to have the officiant there to perform the ceremony and sign the license.
Other states with similar policies to Florida
- **Note: Colorado allows for self solemnization. This means that the couple could technically “marry themselves” and not require an officiant to be present. In this case, the couple could get married and obtain their license all virtually.
These states all fall under the same category as Florida. The officiant must be present for the marriage to be considered legal.
For more information on other states not listed, visit theamm.org to check policies surrounding your state.
Are virtual weddings legal in the UK?
At this point, virtual weddings are not considered legally binding in the UK. However, the same philosophy applies as within the states. It is possible to have a micro wedding with your officiant present on site and the rest of the guests joining via Zoom.
Alternative options to consider
Let’s say that your wedding falls under the category of “officiant needs to be present” for it to be considered legal. There are still many options for you to consider, other than postponing your wedding! We could ALL use something to celebrate in these crazy times we are living through. One great option is to have a micro wedding. This would entail inviting your closest people (think immediate friends and family) and having your officiant present with you. The rest of your guests will be able to be a part of all those special moments of you walking down the aisle and your dad’s unforgettable toast–just from the comfort of their homes!
Another thing to consider within the realm of micro weddings is having an officiant within your friends/family. Nowadays, it is extremely easy and simple for anyone to become ordained online. The Universal Life Church offers instant ordination to anyone that is over the age of 18. This would be something to consider if you are worried about numbers and don’t want to run the risk of not being able to have your officiant at your wedding. Additionally, it can also be a cost effective option, considering that most clergy and judges do charge a fee to officiate your ceremony.
Lastly, another option to consider if your state isn’t allowing virtual officiants is to have a celebration now and make it legally binding at a later date. Many couples have decided that love is too important to wait and have decided to go forward with their weddings, despite current restrictions. They are simply inviting their friends and family to join in on the fun now and will get their marriage licenses when lockdown is over. (Besides, none of your virtual guests will even be aware of this–they will just be happy to get to put a dress and some lipstick on….for a change!)
No matter which route you end up taking to move forward with your wedding, make sure to do your research beforehand! This will ensure that you know you all of your options and make the best informed decision that you can make. And after you’ve made that decision, give yourself a big pat on the back–you’ve just planned a wedding during a global pandemic. And that’s no small feat!