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Do Online Ordinations Work for having a friend Marry You in Virginia?

by Prince Of Petworth February 19, 2016 at 2:25 pm 34 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joseph Gruber

“Dear PoPville,

We’re getting married in VA and want to use a friend to marry us; she is not ordained and we were originally thinking to take the approach of the online ordination. That seems to be clearly prohibited by VA due to recent court decisions in the last 5 years. So our question is just ot see if anyone has any luck figuring this out so that a friend could facilitate the ceremony.”

  • oldhouselover

    No direct experience with VA, but I will say that my wife and I got “married” at a ceremony with friends and family and then went down to the courthouse a few weeks later and got officially married in front of a judge. The lack of officiality at our friends and family ceremony didn’t detract (for us). So that’s a backup option.

    • soozles

      Yes, that’s what I was going to say. Get married at the courthouse and then plan your ceremony as you wish with your friend officiating.

    • Philippe Lecheval

      I agree. If you’re not really religious and aren’t getting married in the religious sense, just make it official at the courthouse. It seems kind of pointless to go to the trouble of having someone fake ordained just to have a mock religious ceremony.

  • anon

    My experience was pretty similar to oldhouselvoer.

    I went to the DC courthouse prior to my wedding and received a license that allowed an ordained friend to marry us in DC. We had our ceremony in VA officiated by my friend; it was beautiful but it had no legal effect and it did not matter to us or our guests at all. That night when we came back to DC we signed the certificate and mailed it in.

    • Charles

      This is how all religious weddings work; the ceremony has no legal weight other than providing an officiant and witnesses to sign the certificate. It doesn’t matter if your officiant got an ordination from the Universal Life Church or directly from the Pope.

  • d

    I feel like when I was looking at wedding spots in the area, I read something that in Virginia your officiant has to been either a legit religious person or a legit court person so you can’t just have a friend do it.

  • Anon

    Yes, we dealt with this and after considering a lot of different options we decided to go with what we thought to be the easiest. We asked our friend to lead the ceremony in front of 200 guests like we imagined, but earlier that day we took a break from photographs and asked someone from the county court to come to our venue. Our family and wedding party stood in a circle around us and we said the basic stuff the VA court asks you to say (“i dos”) and then we signed the papers. She said, “you may kiss the bride” and everything. I thought it was going to be a random formality but it was surprisingly touching and sweet. We then had our buddy lead the big service that evening.

    They do a good job. We paid ~$100 in cash to her when she arrived to cover every thing.

    You can get your friend ordained in VA but trust its v v long and drawn out and they do NOT like that online stuff.

    • eggs

      I have a friend who has officiated multiple weddings of other friends of ours in VA, and this is exactly what they’ve all done. He’s “ordained” online but VA doesn’t recognize this, so every time this has happened the couple has had a county rep/justice/whatever they’re called come to the site earlier in the day and do the legal ceremony, then they still do the big ceremony officiated by the friend.

  • Wheeeeee

    What if you’re getting married in a gondola going over the river?

    • Anon

      That’s international air, anarchy reigns

      • accendo

        Yup, there will have to be a captain of the gondola who can marry you, like on a ship at sea.

        • Wheeeeee

          There should be a Chapel Gondola specifically for this purpose.

          • I Dont Get It

            There should be an Elvis Chapel Gondola specifically for this purpose.

            There I fixed it for you!

          • Wheeeeee

            There we go– charge people a hefty sum to get married in the Elvis Chapel Gondola, which will help fund the thing since no one else is going to use it.

    • It’s Friday

      Ha! This response! Totally busted out laughing. But yes, ‘d’ is correct – Virginia requires you to have a licensed clergy in the state, or to go to the court/have someone from the court marry you.

    • saf

      DC owns everything from the VA riverbank to DC – so NO part of the river is VA.

  • Jst

    You can have your friend deputized! This is how I was married in Virginia.

    Your friend goes to the Clerk’s office at the courthouse (same window that you get your marriage cert, ask for these forms there), they get sworn in (deputized) by the court. You will have to submit a check (to be held in a safe) as a bond for your deputized friend. Once your friend returns to the courthouse with the signed copies of the marriage certificate, they will return the un-cashed check along with notarized copies of your marriage cert.

    TLDR- ask about this when you’re getting your marriage licence, they’ll hook you up with all the instructions.

    • crates

      if I recall correctly, the deputized person must be a resident of the county in which the marriage will be performed. my wife and i were married in outside of Charlottesville and I remember reading that an Arlington County (for example) resident could not preform the ceremony.

      • Dave S

        We did this and here’s how it worked regarding location: The person who is being “deputized,” gets that done in the county where they live, but their “deputization” is good for *anywhere in the state.* We live in Arlington, got our certificate in the county where our friend lived (Fairfax) where she also got the special dispensation to do the wedding. We held the ceremony in Richmond. IOW, you don’t need to involve a church, online or real; churches have no special legal authority — marriages are a government act. The government simply permits people, religious clergy or non-religious officiants alike, to act on the government’s behalf as opposed to a judge. I recall Fairfax County’s website being particularly clear and helpful, though that was 8 years ago.

  • artemis

    Your friend can get a “special dispensation” from the county clerk/court in VA where you are getting married. The court will empower non-clergy members to perform weddings on a one-off basis. My friends did this when they married a few years ago. If I recall correctly, it involved a nominal fee and some character reference letters for the officiant.

    “VA-resident non-clergy can sign up for a one-time permit to celebrate a wedding. Apply in person at the Clerk’s office of any Circuit Court.” Call the courthouse in the county where you are getting married for details.

  • mwmp

    It should be fine- but the person definitely has to go to the courthouse with you. It doesn’t say no to online ordination but they have to prove their connection/communication with the church. We are having a friend marry us- he has done a million of these things and said it is no biggie.

  • TropicBird

    We got married in St. Michaels and after visiting the courthouse in Easton to get our license a few days before the wedding, we realized hey, that was it, we are officially married now, the ceremony and the reception are just the icing on the cake. I don’t see why it would matter whether the officiant was even ordained.

    • sbc

      I don’t know how it works in MD, but in DC we just picked up the blank form–it still needed to be filled out by our officiant and mailed back in; then our marriage certificate was issued. So we weren’t married just because we got the form at the courthouse.

    • Jst

      Are you sure you’re married? Someone has to sign and return the license to the courthouse for you to be “officially married”. Then you receive a certificate of marriage.

      If the person who signs the license is not approved by the state, it doesn’t count. Having a marriage license does not equal marriage recognized by the state. You need a marriage certificate.

      • Anon

        DC requires less formality. A friend who performs marriages in DC told me that you can actually marry yourself in DC – you don’t even need a third party officiant.
        Plus, DC is a common law marriage jurisdiction. So, if you had a ceremony and think you’re married and hold yourself out as married…but you forgot to check a box or something, there is a good chance you are married anyway.

        • Anon

          You can marry yourself but one of the two people has to be the “officiant” and sign the form and mail it back in. I am doing this next weekend.

  • Luray

    We got married in Luray by a friend who was ordained online, all our friend had to do was write the county clerk for permission and send in his credentials, all of which he did from California. So it’s definitely possible.

    • Soontobemarried

      Thanks @Luray – when did you get married and would you share with whom you spoke with at Page County?

  • mwmp

    OK! This freaked me out and I spent an hour researching and calling courts.
    You can only be designated by the court if you are a Virginia resident. Our friend/officiant is a dc resident- so no dice.
    Online ordained people are not recognized by the court where we are getting married- but they are recognized by some Virginia jurisdictions. The lady I spoke with did not know where- but I feel good about the wording on Arlington’s website. Just couldn’t get anyone on the phone at 4:30. I can let Pop know what I find out on Monday!
    Worst case we will do a DC License ahead of time. Congrats on your wedding! Hope this is the biggest hoop to jump through!

  • Nicolas Kirby

    I just had a friend ordained online via the Universal Life Church. We went to the Arlington County Courthouse and the clerk have him the ability to perform a one time service. We had to present his “credentials” from the Universal Life Church and pay a small fee. They administered an oath and he is good to go now.


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