I have written over 200 weddings, officiated over 200 weddings and I stopped counting in 1989 when I reached that number of 200. Here are 10 pieces of information that keep surfacing as questions I am asked about wedding ceremonies.
- There are several basic kinds of wedding ceremonies and they are: Civil, Religious, Legal Contract, and Common Law.Civil is officiated by an officer of the court such as a judge or Justice of the Peace and usually has a County Marriage license to be filled out, paid for and filed.
Religious if officiated by a Pastor, Clergy Person, Reverend or a person who gets a certificate off the Internet, and quite often a Marriage License from the County is filled out, paid for and filed. This is not always the case as a number of folks combine this ceremony with legal Contracts or Common Law also.
Legal Contracts I understand that these are now available on the Internet or in books, but I have only seen Contracts drawn up by Lawyers and they include a definition of what the marriage will be, the relationship to the children, the relationship to ownership of property and what will happen if the contact is to be dissolved. These are extremely detailed documents which are filed with the courts.
Common Law This ceremony is usually just a “moving in together party” and the folks stay together for at least 7 years ( this state’s requirement if no children), jointly gain ownership of property, maybe have children and they are subject to the rule of law and the decisions of the legal system in their state. These folks have given their rights and responsibilities regarding children, property, and dissolution over to the legal system.
You may choose anyone of these and are not required to have a Minister or Judge officiate and now in my State your best friend can perform the wedding ceremony and sign the license with no training or tools – one couple was surprised with “You are now married, you can kiss and we can get to the food.” And that was just enough wedding for everyone present.
- Witnesses for a wedding do not have to be one male and one female. In my state they must be over 18 to sign and they need to know they might be called into court, which has happened to me with a couple who filed for divorce 5 days after the wedding. The court system called me and the judge would not accept the request until they had completed 30 hours of counseling. I would love to tell you they are still married but I just don’t know, they did make it 5 years before I lost touch.
- Living together is NOT the same as being married. Trust me on this one. I have had countless brides and grooms tell me that they will be fine together because they have lived together for X number of years and I am sure every one of these would say today, “Living together is NOT the same as being married.”
- You are the consumer of the “wedding” and you need to get your needs met. Be sure that you check the officiant’s philosophy or theology before you agree to a wedding ceremony, read the ceremony before hand. Can you publically stand before your friends and agree to follow those things that the officiant is asking you to agree? What do you believe and what is your public commitment that you want everyone to know? If it is not something you believe or can say yes to, then write your own service or find someone else to write one for you that matches what you believe. More practice in what to do if you think your might hurt someone’s feelings, and we all need practice in how get our needs met and not worry about the other guy.
- Pre-Marriage and Pre-wedding counseling is absolutely necessary in this day and age and then there are no guarantees. Find a good person who is skilled in these sessions and make them a priority – really they are more important than the dress and pleasing your new mother-in-law.
- Put only 1/3rd as much effort into planning the wedding as you do into planning for the marriage.
- Do NOT go into debt for your wedding or put your parents into debt for your wedding. The whole marriage is burdened by that debt and that is a recipe for disaster.
- Don’t be persuaded to do something just because it is tradition or it’s important for you to keep peace with someone. Know what you value and what you want to say publically about your commitment – if all those other ideas are so important let those people have their own ceremony or re-commitment ceremony or be committed and if they truly care – they will let go and just look for your happiness. Movie Stars are paid entertainer and fashion models – do you want an imitation of what an entertainer thinks is important for starting a marriage?
- Know that nothing is perfect and something will go wrong and that will make a lasting memory, so do you want the “wrong” thing to show people how well you handled it and got back to your joy and enjoyment or do you want everyone to talk about how drunk the guests were and how they interrupted the event? (Alcohol and drugs are not required items to make an event beautiful and joyous – though we oft times forget that tidbit of wisdom these days)
- Everything that you do to prepare for your wedding ceremony and marriage-> find the positive and access the joy. Yes, you and your partner will be learning about disagreeing and problem solving but keep coming back to the joy; it’s always there you just have to keep it in mind!