Photo: Lane Dittoe Weddings
Written by Natasha Anakotta of American Marriage Ministries
Coronavirus wedding cancellations have couples devising all kinds of alternate plans on the fly, but if you are considering a virtual wedding ceremony – where you say your vows from one location while your officiant performs the ceremony from another via telecommunication (Skype, Zoom, FaceTime) – you might want to reconsider.
A Skype ceremony may seem like a simple and creative solution to your Coronavirus wedding woes, but you should not assume that internet weddings will be considered legal or valid according to your local marriage laws.
The problem with virtual wedding ceremonies is that they conflict with a lot of basic marriage laws, thereby entering a legal grey area. Marriage laws and officiant registration requirements vary drastically from state to state – in some places, even from county to county – and many of these policies would prevent an online wedding ceremony from being legally binding.
If you wish to pursue a virtual wedding ceremony, we urge you to proceed with caution, and to first seek the counsel of a local attorney who specializes in family law
Here are a few important things for couples to note:
Virtual weddings have been attempted before. A couple getting married in Texas had their officiant in Washington, DC perform their 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.
Your local marriage laws and any officiant registration policies should be clearly stated on the county or marriage bureau’s official government website.
Marriage bureau or county clerks cannot provide you with legal counsel. They can recite local policies and help you with properly filling out applications, licenses, or forms, but otherwise their job is simply to issue and file your marriage license.
Don't let this information discourage or alarm you.
We’re not saying that a Skype wedding ceremony is flat out impossible; there is a chance that some offices will make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, given the current state of affairs and that there is no precedent for this particular situation. Marriage laws can be unclear to begin with, and they are further complicated by the simple fact that they aren't up to date with current technological capabilities.
However, when we consulted our own lawyers here at American Marriage Ministries, they agreed with our cautionary advice. And while we defer to our legal counsel when it comes to such matters, there are also general marriage law articles written on the subject that come to the same consensus: most internet ceremonies are probably not going to be legit.
We understand and sympathize with the frustration, sadness, and anxiety you and so many other couples are experiencing in these uncertain times. But above all, we want you to make informed and sound decisions so that you can avoid any additional and unnecessary stress.
So unless you receive clear permission from a legal expert or local marriage bureau, it’s probably not in your best interest to settle for a Skype wedding. You want to be 100% certain that your union is legitimate in the eyes of the law, and it’s simply not worth risking the repercussions – or compromising the validity of your marriage.