United States marriage law requires one or both spouses to appear in person and sign a marriage license in the presence of a clerk at a courthouse, city hall, or town office1. But because of the indefinite closures of many of these sites across the country due to the coronavirus, the state of New York announced an executive order allowing couples to apply for and obtain marriage licenses — and even get married — online.
In 2018, there were 2.13 million marriages in the United States2
- Wedding Suspensions Due to the Coronavirus
- Remote Weddings and Marriage Licenses in New York
- Why it May Be Difficult to Perform a Virtual Wedding in Your State
The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the suspension of events and large gatherings across most states, including one of life’s most significant moments — weddings.
Around 78% of weddings take place between May and October3, which equates to around a million and a half celebrations. As the United States creeps into wedding season opening day, many couples are being forced to postpone or cancel their nuptials. One of the more discouraging aspects of the virus related to weddings is what we don’t know — especially unknowns concerning how long events will be banned because of uncertainty surrounding the lifespan of the virus.
While guidelines for reopening the economy have surfaced4, decisions are still being left to the states. But most states are at a standstill until safety concerns are mitigated, leaving many couples unsure as to what to do about their May, early June, or even late summer weddings. Moreover, those looking to move their early summer weddings back a few months could very well be taking a shot in the dark.
New York’s Secretary to the Governor, Melissa DeRosa, announced on April 18th, 2020, that all New Yorkers will be able to get marriage certificates remotely as well as hold ceremonies online, noting that clerks will be authorized to perform virtual ceremonies. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was present at the time of the announcement, followed up later in the day in a tweet.
As of today, there have been no additional indications as to how New Yorkers will be able to do this. We’re expecting further instructions in the coming days and will update you as soon as the information becomes available. If you’re looking to get married online or apply for a marriage license online in the state of New York, it’s recommended to contact your city clerk’s office by phone or email to inquire as to how the application or ceremony may be performed.
Find more information concerning Executive Order 202.20 here. It should be noted that the order is valid through May 18th, 2020.
While some couples are taking Zoom and other conferencing technologies to keep their wedding day, requirements may make weddings in most states legally impossible via video conferencing. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we feel it’s necessary to equip you with the right information. United States marriage law — especially surrounding marriage licenses — may make legitimizing a virtual wedding nearly impossible.
The process of getting married is 99% celebration, but 1% paperwork — and the marriage won’t be recognized unless the paperwork is completed, which is why it’s important to be aware of timing and location requirements for marriage licenses in your state. Here are a few administrative difficulties that may come up when doing a virtual wedding while your state (other than NY) is on lockdown:
- Applying for a marriage license. Most couples apply in person approximately 30 days before their wedding date to obtain their marriage license, but most locations to apply are temporarily shuttered.
- Having your marriage licensed signed and mailed by your officiant.
- The license expiration date. Most states have a window of 10 to 90 days after the license is issued for it to be sent in.
- Additional signatures from witnesses. Some states require witnesses to sign the marriage license. Social distancing could make this difficult.
Though you still may be able to invite guests virtually to participate in an unofficial ceremony, many virtual weddings will not be legitimate.
The good news is that there may be some ways around these requirements. If you live in a state other than New York and you’re exploring ways to move forward with virtual nuptials, it’s best to check your state laws in detail, and it might even help to speak with an attorney.