I’ve Been Married For Years, But I’m Not Legally Married: Possible Pitfalls to be Aware of
Congratulations! You married the love of your life…but what if you are not legally married according to the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court? In other words, what if the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court does not have a record of you and your partner ever getting married? Or, what if the minister who was ordained via the Internet cannot legally officiate your wedding?
To be legally married in Pennsylvania, you and your partner must apply for a marriage license. In Lancaster County, that can be done either in person at the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court or through an online application. Marriage licenses are valid for 60 days from the date of issuance.
Solemnizing the Joyful Occasion
Getting a marriage license alone does not mean that you are married. You and your partner must also have your marriage solemnized by a person qualified to solemnize a marriage. But can you ask just anyone to solemnize your marriage?
The answer, like many things in the law, is “it depends.” In Heyer v. Hollerbush, a minister was ordained via the Internet and officiated a couple’s wedding. A York County judge ruled that the couple’s marriage was not valid because the minister did not serve a congregation or preach in a physical house of worship, therefore, could not officiate a wedding ceremony.
Approximately two years later, another case, In re O’Neill, conflicted with Heyer v. Hollerbush. In this case, a judge ruled that a minister who was ordained via the Internet, who has no congregation and no church to preach in, may officiate wedding ceremonies. Neither case has been appealed to a Pennsylvania Appellate Court, making it unclear as to whether a minister who has been ordained via the Internet, who has no congregation and no church to preach in can officiate wedding ceremonies. Due to the conflicting rulings, a majority of the counties’ Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court offices throughout Pennsylvania have a warning displayed on their websites about Internet ordinations.
For this reason, you should be cautious about having a minister who was ordained via the Internet officiate your wedding ceremony.
Sign on the Dotted Line
After the marriage is solemnized, the marriage certificate and the duplicate must be signed by the person solemnizing the marriage and the duplicate must be returned for recording within 10 days to the court that issued the license.
I have helped clients who thought they were married to their partner for many years and applied for a certified copy of their marriage certificate, only to find out the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court had no record of their marriage. To their shock, they were not legally married! This can occur when the officiant does not return the duplicate copy of your marriage certificate to the court, resulting in the marriage not being recorded.
For this reason, it is crucial that your officiant signs the duplicate copy of your marriage certificate and returns it to the court within ten days.
If you would like to make sure you are legally married in Lancaster County, you can search for your marriage record here. Keep in mind that just because you may have gotten married in Lancaster County, you may have obtained your marriage license from a different county in Pennsylvania.
If you find yourself in need of an attorney to help you and your partner record your marriage, your marriage wasn’t properly recorded or if you have questions about ministers who were ordained via the Internet , contact one of our family law attorneys.