There are a lot of wedding officiants in Indianapolis who have capitalized on the fact you can't get married at the courthouse. They started wedding officiant businesses to make money. I have a very successful wedding officiant business but that's because I was in the right place at the right time when they stopped marrying couples in the courthouse. I was a wedding officiant building my business before that. I have a tendency to be long winded so I'm trying to write more direct blog posts answering certain questions and telling my stories - here is the short version as why I became a wedding officiant:
I actually became an ordained minister back in 2002, before I had kids and when we were still living in Delaware. I was working for an online internet bank in customer service. It was a slow Saturday morning and I was checking my old AOL email account. I received an email that said, "You too can become an ordained minister! You can marry people, you can bury people, baptize people, do naming ceremonies...." It didn't say that exactly, but that's how I read it. It was a funny sales pitch and me and my co-workers were laughing about it for a while. I thought being a wedding officiant would be a great job. So I printed out the application, filled it out and took it home, wrote a check and mailed it in. A few weeks later, I was an ordained minister! I think it's a funny part of the story that I actually had to mail the application and write a check. Now, you can do it online, immediately, and for free.
It wasn't just a joke when I became ordained. I've spent my whole life on the pursuit of religious happiness, experiencing many faiths and backgrounds. The point of actually offering such an easy ordination isn't just so you can marry couples. It has to do with the freedom of religion. Organizations like the Universal Life Church will ordain you so you can practice any religion you want under their church umbrella. They are a legitimate religious organization. They just don't require you to get a masters of divinity and attend their seminary. I LOVE that! I'm a big believer in being self taught and finding ways to educate yourself the best way for you. At the time, getting ordained was kind of like part of my journey into faith, a silly piece of paper gave me something to show for it. It seemed like a pretty good investment for $19.99.
I did the research about how to legally marry couples in Delaware, where we were living at the time. Then, work got busy and I was no longer bored, so I didn't think much about it. Fast forward six years. We were living in Indiana and I had a kindergartner and a toddler. Our credit cards were maxed out and I needed a job. But, my husband worked all the time so I had to be creative. I had no job to go back to in Indiana and since my husband works so much, putting my kids in daycare was not an option for us. I remembered I was ordained and found out I could marry couples in Indiana. I took out a free ad and created a free website and my career as a wedding officiant began! My neighbor would watch our kids in the beginning, as I got busier, the boys would hang out in my husbands office, when I was really busy, we hired a babysitter on Saturday's. Marry Me In Indy! is really a homegrown, family business.
I have a really good reason for wanting to be able to marry couples. I had an awful experience with our parish priest when we getting married. I attended an Episcopal church with my family my entire childhood. I was extremely active in the church throughout my teenage years and my early 20's. I was always going to get married in this church. Going to church was a very big part of my life. Nothing else really crossed my mind other then a simple, romantic, courthouse elopement. I met my husband when he was in the US on a J-1 Student Visa. We were working in the same hotel. He was a cook and I was a pastry cook. I always say his visa expired and we didn't. So, I moved to Germany with him. We got married, he got a green card and we moved back to the US. In almost every other country in the world, you MUST be married by a government official. They have a complete separation of church and state. It is normal to get married in the courthouse on a Friday and then have a church wedding on Saturday if you are religious. If you are not religious, you might wait a year to have a wedding ceremony or just have a party for friends and family instead.
Traditionally, in Germany, you get married in the courthouse, have a huge, drunken party for the village and then, the next morning, have a formal church wedding and small reception just for family and very close friends. It seemed obvious to us that we'd get legally married in Germany and then have a traditional church wedding and reception back in Delaware, where I grew up. My mom was busy reserving our venue, reserving the date at the church, everything that needs to be done as far enough ahead of time as possible when having a church wedding and formal reception. We decided on a Sunday during the Christmas holidays. It was perfect. The church was decorated for Christmas, my husband's family was off during the holidays and was able to book a vacation to the US for the wedding.
When we returned to the US we went to talk with the priest. He then declared that we were already married and he would not allow us to have another wedding. Yes, if we were actually married in Germany, the church would not acknowledge our marriage due to the separation of church and state, however, in the US, they do. We could have a marriage blessing. He literally made this up, drawing from fact and creating his own fiction. He insisted on proof-reading the invitations to make sure it said "blessing" on it. He wouldn't let my father walk me down the aisle and he would not allow me to wear white and he actually said "because you are no longer a virgin!" I don't look good in white so I'd already purchased an off-white, tea-length dress, but STILL!! We wanted to exchange our vows in German and English and the priest insisted on proof-reading the translation to make sure we weren't somehow pulling one over on him in another language..... Apparently his college German was good enough for this. He still made us do premarital counseling, although we were already "married." There was no actual reason for any of this. Other Episcopalians get married in other countries and have their church weddings later in the US with no problem. My mother hosted a female Episcopal priest while she was in town for a conference and she said her brother did the same thing and she married them in the church when they moved back to the US. This particular priest was just extremely power hungry so he was flexing any power he could muster up.
So, why didn't I just find another place to get married? Why didn't I just stand up to him? It was really too late. We just went with it, and it really wasn't that big of a deal. Looking at the whole situation, the priest was, and is an honest to goodness megalomaniac. He has a history of tearing churches and congregations apart instead of unifying them. The Episcopal Church is generally very liberal. They ordain women and the LGBTQ community. They had a woman bishop. I literally remember my father opening a bottle of sparkling wine the day the first female bishop was ordained to celebrate not only the new bishop, but the fact she was a woman. This particular priest moved on to become a bishop who retaliated against the church when they began ordaining gay bishops. He led a crusade to separate from the church over the issue of gay bishops. Finally, the church had to remind him that they own the church building, the property and pay his salary so that wasn't going to work. The church finally did separate themselves from him and he went on to work for the much more conservative worldwide Anglican Church. He left a lot of division and hurting in his wake.
The day of my wedding, the priest actually had the nerve to say to me during the receiving line "too bad we couldn't have done this the right way and all gone to Germany for the wedding." He was probably upset he didn't get a free vacation in Germany, as if! He got absolutely shit-faced drunk at the reception, like falling over drunk and was extremely belligerent. I didn't go back to that church after the wedding. Maybe a year later, friends got married in the church and had their reception in the church hall. He didn't officiate their wedding, another priest did, but he did show up and walk through and get a free drink. As he walked by me he had the nerve to say "Well Victoria, we haven't seen you in church in quite a while, not since your marriage blessing, too bad we couldn't do it the right way, like this..."
So, based on all of this, pregnant? Wanna wear white? Come on over! Let's get married! Gay? Transgender? Not sure? Come on over, let's get married!!! Got married in an other country? Want another wedding? Come on over. In between churches? Interfaith? Atheist? No problem! Marry Me In Indy! Marrying anyone, any way they want to be married!!
One of my very first large, formal weddings was a couple that had reached the point of desperate. They weren't getting married in a church, so they had options. The groom's childhood pastor was going to marry them but when they were going through counseling, the bride decided it just wasn't going to work for her. There was no way this man was going to marry them. I was very happy to provide that option for them. I've married hundreds of gay couples and plenty of pregnant women, some were dressed in white and absolutely glowing! I regularly marry couples that are already married and others that need to get married for their visa. Green card weddings, K-1 visa's. No judgement. Wanna pray? Let's pray? Don't wanna pray? No worries!
The Green Card Wedding. Part 1
Yesterday, I performed a simple civil ceremony for a groom that works for immigration. He and his wife had a marriage license that was about to expire as they were trying to decide what to do, so they hired me to sign it and just get the legal part over with. I was so excited to learn what he does for a living!! International weddings are special to me. Sham weddings fascinate interest me, as I’m rather certain I’ve performed more than one. Speaking briefly to someone on the inside where they actually separate fact from fiction was a bit of a thrill.
I want to write several blog posts about my experiences marrying foreigners. I’m writing this blog post first to put them into context. My first immigration and green card experience is my own. Here is a little backstory about me to explain my point of view...
When I graduated from high school, back in the 80’s, I attended Culinary School at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. (It was still Johnson and Wales College then.) I graduated with an associates degree in Pastry Arts. I then set off to become a pastry chef. I was all of 19 years old when I graduated so I went home and looked for a job. A month or so later, I had an entry level position in a four star luxury hotel about 30 minutes from my parents home. It was even on the bus route so I could commute before buying my first car. This was an amazing job opportunity! This hotel was part of the community and had a very good publicity department. Their Sunday Brunch and their dessert buffet was legendary. Their most recent pastry chef had been a well known culinary olympics winner. They had recently finished a state of the art renovation of their bakery and pastry shop and somehow, they hired me!
The bakery itself, was staffed with Americans. The pastry shop, on the other hand, spoke a different language all together. The executive pastry chef was from Holland and was a Certified Master Pastry Chef in Germany. There were three pastry cooks from Austria working legally on J-1 visas through a student exchange program. The main
language being spoken there was German. When the Austrians went home, they were replaced by a woman from Germany and a man from Holland. The main language spoken was still German. The General Manager of the hotel and the Executive Chef were both Austrian. The assistant manager was French. One of the restaurant chef’s was German. There was an entire department in the kitchen that was staffed mainly by Italian women. I was friends with an american woman who worked with them and we declared “only we could find a job in our own country and not speak the language!”
One day, there was a new cook from Germany and they were giving him a tour of the hotel. He walked into the pastry shop and I knew immediately I was going to marry him. I repressed that feeling for a few months, but we did finally have that first date where we were sitting in a bar and I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. I just kept smiling and shaking my head….
I always say when my husband’s visa expired we didn’t, and I moved to Germany with him. We were engaged a month after I moved there and we were married five months later. After our wedding we applied for his green card. A year after moving to Germany, with his green card in hand, we moved back to the US. I’m pretty sure, when I moved there, it was with the intention to live there longer. I was excited to work in a German pastry shop. But after living in the US, my husband was no longer really interested in just living in Germany. He was ready to get back to things like 24 hour grocery stores.
The first green card, when issued on the grounds of a marriage less than two years old is temporary. After two years, you need to prove that you are still married. That was no problem. We supplied the required documents and he was then issued a green card good for 10 years. Over those 10 years, we broke up for a few months and he entertained the idea of moving back to Germany. Then we got back together and he entertained the idea of applying for citizenship. We started filling out the paperwork and didn’t go much further with it at the time. Not for any particular reason, more like laziness or other important things like work and life took precedence. There was no urgency or need. Fast forward a few years and he decided, once and for all, he wanted to be an american citizen. We filled out the paperwork, he had his interview and testing, which lasted a matter of minutes, and he was granted citizenship. My father and I attended his swearing in and celebrated afterwards with a glass of champagne at a hip restaurant near the courthouse.
My grandfather was an immigrant from Poland, becoming an american citizen really meant something to my dad. Honestly, I don’t think my husband and I thought too much
about it. Obtaining a green card was just part of us staying together. Becoming an American citizen was just as much a business decision than it was anything else. We’d been married 12 years and he was working as an Executive Chef. We owned a home. His life was firmly planted in the US.
There was lots of paperwork that needed to be done over the years. I didn’t need a visa to just visit Germany. A stamp in my passport was all that entailed. I did have to obtain a residency visa in Germany in order to get married in Germany. That required a medical exam, paperwork and money. We actually stumbled upon a German doctor that had attended medical school at Harvard. He proved very helpful to me over that year with this English language skills. We had to fill out paperwork to get married, including legally translating documents and hiring an interpreter for the actual wedding. Since I was living in Germany, I didn’t have a job in the US able to support us so my father had to sponsor my husband’s green card. More and more paperwork. Then, a lot of waiting. We were never questioned, like in the movie Green Card, when the temporary green card was expiring. My husband wasn’t questioned much during his citizenship interview. He’d been living and working in the US for over ten years. It was obvious he could speak English well and was employable. His knowledge of the US and it’s government is probably better than many people born in the US, as is normal for many people visiting the US. He may have been asked a few questions, but according to him, it was more perfunctory and friendly than anything else. That particular immigration office, due to its location, dealt with more Hispanics were working on farms and struggling to pass the English language test. My husband was the easy appointment of the day.
When I moved to Germany, I attended a German language class. It was really interesting. It was a year after the wall came down and Germany was opening up wide. My teacher grew up in the eastern part of Germany. She didn’t speak English. Her second language was Russian. My classmates were from all over the world. There were several people from the Ukraine. One woman was from a part of Poland that used to be Germany before WW2, so she was allowed to move to Germany. There were many students from the middle east. They loved me and my blonde hair. I had a US dollar everyone was fascinated by. They had brought American whiskey to the Christmas party and everyone wanted to have their picture taken with me and my dollar. Not all, but many students from the middle east were in Germany on student visas. One was a dentist, working towards an advanced degree. A very good friend of mine was from Egypt and seeking an advanced degree in Engineering. There were women
traveling to different countries just to learn languages as part of their greater education. Most of the students from the middle east were in Germany on student visas just to legally get into Germany. They had no intention to actually study in the university. I didn’t think much of that then. I do understand it better now. They found the easiest way into the country and then disappeared into the crowd.
When we were applying for all of our visas we had to visit the American embassy in Frankfurt. There were a LOT of people there applying for green cards. There were a lot of young soldiers with seriously hot, blonde, German women that were most likely looking for a trip to the US and a green card. I was really just observing all of this, not really thinking about it seriously. I knew I loved my husband. I knew I was going to marry him the first time I set eyes on him. This was just part of the process. Observing things like this were part of the adventure.
It’s all so very romantic to look at from the outside...Traveling to a foreign land… But, my experiences in Germany were more with other foreigners then with actual Germans. Those “students” from the middle east were either going to get a degree and go home or disappear into a community of people from their country or culture. We communicated through English and broken German. There was no internet to just log onto to connect with friends and family back then. Communicating could be hard. I've learned there is a difference between communicating and properly speaking a language. When you are just trying to communicate you use all your senses and you are communicating as people. Others will badger you about using the proper gender for your nouns or criticize your accent. Both are important. Those looking to criticize are usually used to having the upper hand in the situation and know how to use it. They don't even realize they are doing it.
I had intended to work when I got to Germany. We went to the German Embassy in Washington DC to inquire about getting a working visa. They insisted we could get that in the town we lived in when we got to Germany. My husband went to the visa office and asked before I moved to Germany. They said, “yes, just bring her in when she gets here and we’ll issue her a visa.” I got there and they said I had to get that in the US. (WTF?!?) At that point, if I had to go back to the US for a visa I wasn’t going to come back to Germany. It was too overwhelming. So, he asked me to marry him! While we were in the grocery store, buying cheap pasta on our budget. It was the height of romance... not..
I was able to legally secure a job without a visa in a pastry shop for student wages. It was the perfect opportunity where I could gain experience and work legally. That was
actually enough for me at the time. I decided to go to language school for a few months first. Language school turned out to be a great experience, so I decided to continue with that instead if going to work right away. I couldn’t do both because language school was actually full time. If you finished the 9 month course successfully, you would be qualified to study in a German university. It made more sense at the time. I had only taken a short course in German for tourists in the the US so taking the time to actually learn German seemed most beneficial at the time.
I signed up for the second language course thinking it would be the same as the first but it wasn’t at all. There were all new students and a new teacher. Foreigners were flowing into Germany pretty steadily with the reunification for east and west. As part of some reunification immigrant packages, the government was paying language school tuition. The first class had been taught by a German woman but she was essentially a foreigner in western Germany, having grown up in the former East Germany. She was our teacher but we all felt like equals. We all had interesting stories. The teacher of the second class was a German teacher and the dynamic was completely different. It felt more like “us and them.” She was the teacher and we were the students, albeit adult students. She was the German and we were the foreigners. A lot of Germans born and raised in western Germany weren’t happy about all the people flooding into the west. My background dealing with “foreigners” was different. When I was working with Germans in the US I thought I was friendly and helpful. We had so much to learn from each other. I was learning a skill at work, they were learning about the US. They were new and different to me and I found it exciting. I was young and naive. What I was now experiencing in Germany was definitely a cultural difference.
When dealing with culture, you have to accept it for what it is. You can’t really look at it as good or bad. The first German teacher I had was raised under communism. In communism, everyone is basically equal. She treated us all as equals. The second German teacher was German. She was much more matter of fact and down to business. It can definitely be interpreted as cold if you aren’t used to it or understand it. Germans are actually very warm once you get to know them. I’m always a little shocked when I hear my husband speak to other Germans forcefully. It sounds forceful to me, it’s really just cultural. There are many languages, when they are being spoken, sound harsh, like they’re fighting, but it’s usually not that case.
In the time between the end of my first class and the beginning of the second class, the first gulf war broke out. Being that blonde american in a class of middle eastern men was no longer as fun as it had been a month or two earlier. The second language class I was in had a whole different group of students. We were practicing dialogue one day and I
was paired up with a man from the middle east. We were doing something basic like asking for a hotel room with a view of the sea. Over the course of the conversation he asked me if I was an American. When I replied that I was, (he already knew I was) he said for an American, all he had was a room with a view of the cemetery. I didn’t know the word for cemetery in German yet. The woman sitting next to me drew her breath in shock and looked it up in my dictionary and showed it to me.
What would you do in that situation? I went home and stayed there for a while. I was literally afraid to go out alone after that. Was he joking? The teacher had laughed it off, but the woman who translated that word for me was in hijab and didn’t think it was funny. There were two sides of that story. I used to spend hours walking around the city. I was afraid to do that now. The silly part is, I look German. People always looked at me a little crazy when I opened my mouth to speak not sounding German at all. Here were these middle eastern men that knew me to be an American. They were literally saying things like "All Hail Saddam Hussein!" That didn't bother me too much until the cemetery comment. What if something did happen and I couldn’t communicate? That was long before the internet and cell phones. We ended up expediting our marriage. It would take time but better to start earlier than later. It would just be all around easier for us, as a couple to move back to the US. It wasn't just for this particular reason. There were a LOT of reasons.
When we moved back to the US my husband got his same job back, his next job was working for an Austrian man, followed by another job working with an Austrian man. These were men with very similar backgrounds to him. They had moved to the US as young cooks ready to explore the world. They always spoke English together but they still had knowledge of the same general cultures.
My husband moved to the US with a job with people who actually spoke his language. Yes, he was here to work on his English language skills too, but it was very helpful having someone who could translate, if needed. He was working in a hotel where he had a room to stay in until he got an apartment. The hotel had extra furniture to help furnish the apartment too. After he got his green card he went back to that same job for almost two years. We had my family to stay with until we secured jobs, got an apartment and a car. Realistically speaking, that’s all easy. There are people immigrating to the US all the time in much more difficult situations. My husband had a choice to come to the US or got to Ireland. He had student visas for both places. He could have worked on his English and gained work and life experiences in both places before returning to Germany. We were young and we were having an adventure. Sitting in our apartment
in Germany, the Colorado Rocky Mountains seems like a much exciting adventure so we pointed in that direction.
Many people moving to the US today are fleeing from their countries in search of a better life, not just a different life. They have to work a lot harder to earn the US dollars they need to get here. They will get here any way they can and once they are here, they will do anything to stay here. I respect that. I’m very much against illegal immigration. However, there are ways to legally get into the US and if you somehow get here, there are legal ways to stay here. Marriage is very much one of them. Your immigration status has nothing to do with being issued a marriage license. One of the requirements is not “are you living in the US legally?” You could be getting married while here on vacation. Since it is not a requirement, they don’t ask. As a professional wedding officiant, you are paying me to sign a license that the government issued. All I’m attesting to is watching you sign the license. Essentially, you need to meet the legal requirements to enter into the legal status of “marriage” and you have to enter into the contract in a legal way. It can be one piece of the puzzle for obtaining a green card. It might work, it might not work. That is not for me to say. Even the people working in the immigration office have a hard time separating fact from fiction when it comes to marriage and your intentions on entering into one.
Tune in again soon for Part 2!
There are some things you rarely get an opportunity to do. It might be an experience you never even thought of before but when it presents itself, you can't help but be intrigued. For me, the opportunity to go inside a prison was one I couldn't turn down!
When I first started performing weddings it was all new. Going to new venues, meeting new people, listening to their stories. The crazier or more interesting the better! I market myself as a wedding officiant that will marry anyone, any way they wanted to be married. My intentions in that statement was meant to mean I'll do what a priest or pastor might not do but it's really turned into something better than that. It really can be an adventure!
The first time I got a call to perform a wedding in prison I was all over it. What an opportunity for a new experience! I'd certainly never been to a prison before and couldn't see any other opportunity to do so. I've done 3 weddings in actual prisons and another via Skype for a couple where the groom was in jail. Yes, in some Indiana jails, that's a thing. Now that I know what it entails, if you want me to perform a wedding in a prison, you are going to pay for it. My regular prices do not apply. This is my most interesting story...
Please know that I'm telling my stories from general statements. What may be entertainment for one person maybe educational for another. I know that I've learned a lot and all the information is making me more of an expert as a wedding officiant. I've written out many of my stories and I found that each time a different person reads a story they get have a different take. I may see the situation one way, you may see it another. My intention in sharing my stories, in any form, is so those who are pondering marriage in any capacity might know that they aren't alone in their non traditional weddings and marriages and that I respect their choices.
People call to inquire about marrying a prisoner but marriage very rarely actually happen. You have to jump through a lot of hoops and do a lot of paperwork to marry a prisoner. Federal prisoners come from all over the country and often brides have to travel a distance to visit their fiance. The cost of travel and the cost of paperwork plus my fee can make it out of reach for many people. You also have to ask yourself, "do I really want to marry a guy in prison?"
I received an email from a woman in Australia. She asked if I'd travel to Terre Haute to perform her wedding. She said to was important to her that a woman perform the ceremony. I thought to myself, gee, if you are going to actually travel all the way from
Australia, the least I could do is travel from Fishers. What a great story! I gave her a quote and thought there was really no way it was going to actually happen.
I get a lot of emails and inquiries. I can usually tell is a person is sincere or not. This email was. So, I can say one day, "I'm NEVER doing that again!" And another, my mind will be instantly changed by the sincerity of an inquiry. Believe me, gone are the days when "Miss Victoria, we'd be so honored if you would bless us...or God let us to you..." will work. I'm not saying God didn't bring us together, I'm saying I'm not going to let you use that to manipulate me.
A month or so later, I received another email and she was ready to make a deposit. She was getting everything together to come to America and get married! A few weeks later she made the final payment and we were ironing out details. She let me know when she got the Indiana, when they finished their premarital counseling class and how wonderful it was to spend an entire day with him!
Her wedding time was at 8 AM. I had to get up really, really early to get there in time. It's times like this when I really have to consider what my actual price is to do something? I am business and I am a human being. How am I going to combine the two right now, in this situation? Prisons have dress codes and rules and am I doing this right? How can I meet the security rules as easily as possible? Is the chaplain going to be nice to me or judgmental like the others? It's one thing to stand up to a rude person bargaining for a cheap wedding, it's another to interact graciously with prison personnel.
I had so many questions!! Inquiring minds want to know. How did you meet? A woman from Australia and a man in prison. Why are you doing this? It turns out there are websites like prisonpenpals.net and writeaprisoner.com, just to name a few. The groom was in prison for doing something really stupid when he was young and stupid. They met on one of these pen pal sites and their relationship just took off. They email, snail mail and talk on the phone. They had amazing things in common. They were both born to alcoholic mothers, had never known their fathers and were raised by their grandmothers. They both had an almost identical picture of their fourth birthdays holding a cupcake. They were able to open up to each other and developed a very good friendship. After a year, she came to visit. She was the first person to ever visit him in prison. It was love at first sight. Now, they were getting married.
The bride was a very gentle person. You can tell a lot about a couple when they share their wedding vows. They had written pages to share with each other. They both had so much time to think about themselves and to see a reflection of themselves in the other.
He was moved by the fact she liked to save baby birds and injured animals. It clearly softened him. When she had driven out to the prison that morning she was concerned for a dead animal on the road. She asked the chaplain, who would come and take care of the animal? His very practical answer was "the buzzards will take care of it." She just didn't understand that and asked twice, very concerned for the animal. She still didn't seem to quite get his answer when he gave it the second time. If soul mates exist, these two definitely are. It was obvious they had found something special in the other.
Their reason for getting married was because they love each other. He still had several years on his sentence. They literally had nothing to gain from the other but love. I asked her if she was going to go home and apply for a green card and move to the US. Some people I spoke with thought that might be her motivation. You can apply for a green card on the grounds of marriage even if you are married to a prisoner. She said that was not in the plans yet. She was going to go home and save up enough money to come back and visit again. There was no reason to move to America just so she could visit him more easily.
It's such a weird situation. Plenty of people have fallen in love from long distances over snail mail. It's a wonderful way to really get to know a person. But not many people do that these days. Instant messaging, Skype, face time, a telephone. I have a romantic ceremony that I use for just about every couple for whom I perform a small ceremony but it really doesn't work in this situation. They haven't built a relationship leading to marriage like so many couples do. They won't be able to consummate the marriage for years. They might get a kiss and hug. It really gave me an opportunity to think about the romance of the situation and the nature of marriage and human relationships. What is marriage really? It's something different for every couple. What words could I share with them on their wedding day? What ceremony could I write and print out for them so they could keep it to reflect on later?
I really loved this couple. I was moved by their relationship. I felt like I'd know the bride my whole life and still feel connected to her in a way. I was glad to have a long drive home to think about it. I thought about all the time they had to think too.
Now, let's get real. If you think all prison marriages are like this. They aren't. This is one couple, one marriage, one relationship. This is a beautiful couple and a beautiful story. His crime and his circumstances are his. I have an incredibly open mind to whatever your story might be. But generally, if you really want to marry a prisoner, they don't make it easy, and there is a reason for that. I will continue the story in part 2!
Yesterday's Blog was about a very sweet couple I married in prison. Today, I want to talk about a little bit more about the not so sweet part of prison weddings.
Everyone loves a good story. Some people love a good love story. Throw a wedding into that love story and will have a hit. People fall for the romance. The wildly popular Netflix series, Orange is the New Black,had a wedding that was entertaining and romantic in it's own way. It was Hollywood mixed with real life so it wasn't entirely accurate. You definitely don't get a conjugal visit at the end of your prison wedding. You might get an extra hour in the regular visiting room. Orange is The New Black made some good points, when you are in prison you have to get permission to get married. It's a privilege you have to earn. You have the right to get married and they technically can't stop you from getting married. They can, however, make it difficult.
In real life, there are certain requirements you have to meet to get married in prison. The prison's I've dealt with in Indiana have required a full day class for the couple getting married. The prisoner may have to read other books and take other classes to get approval. Even after everything is approved, the prisoner has to be on their best behavior and not get into any trouble up to the wedding day. You have to hire your own wedding officiant to perform your wedding in prison. The prison chaplain has to approve your wedding but doesn't perform it. Once you are approved you have to get approval to bring things like flowers and even your rings into the prison. I've had to have my ceremony scripts approved. The bride has had to have her written vows approved. Someone else has to bring the papers in. Even the pen used to sign the paper needs to be delivered by prison personnel. Rings have to be metal, no stones. You need to provide a receipt that the ring cost no more than $35. It turns out Walmart has a plain metal band for just under that amount. I'm thinking that's probably not a coincidence. They actually sell a lot of rings online but they have a ring in the store that is just under the allowed amount.
Getting a marriage license to marry a prisoner has extra steps that need to be taken. You'll have to get the license in the county where the prison is because they will be set up to deal with the paperwork. You have to make phone calls to get the information you need. You'll need to fill out extra paperwork with the prison and the clerk. Getting legally married is paperwork. It doesn't matter if you are a prisoner. Perhaps the extra
paperwork to marry your prisoner is really no big deal. I mean, you are basically alone, filling your time without the one you love. That's just the way it is. Getting the actual approval to get married and getting a concrete wedding date approved is another thing.
The first prison wedding I did was filled with drama. I received a call from the bride looking for someone to perform the wedding. She was completely fed up with the chaplain and just wanted a neutral party she liked to add some positive energy to the wedding. She had been through a lot. She was a real fighter and refused to give up. The chaplain had written her letters trying to get her to change her mind. I had to provide documentation. He tried to get me to not perform the wedding. When we got to the prison the proper paperwork for that day hadn't been done because it wasn't a regular visit, it was a special visit. It was one big fight right to the end. After a long wait, we finally got inside and performed the wedding. We performed the ceremony in the children's playroom in the visiting area. There were beautiful Disney murals on the walls. Later that day, when the bride posted the pictures online people who didn't know she was getting married thought she had actually gone to Florida, not prison. It was a nice little wedding. Most of it was really just the bride and groom sharing their pages long vows they'd written. We signed the license and filled up an entire disposable camera with pictures. It really wasn't all that weird. I went back to the waiting area and she spent some more time with her new hubby.
I had driven to the prison with the bride and we had planned to go out for lunch afterward but when that time came we just weren't into it. We had to pick up our kids from school and the babysitters, so we drove home. In silence. I've performed small, private wedding for couples who were in definite need of a room while sealing their marriage with a kiss. Most newly married couples go out to dinner, have a party or reception and/or go on a honeymoon. The prisoner goes back to his cell and the other goes home alone. She just made one of the biggest promises of her life to stick with someone through thick and thin and until death do you part, and the door shut and locked behind her as she walked away from her wedding, with her husband on the other side. I wan't friends with the bride. We'd had lunch one day and talked love and soul mates. We got along great. I genuinely liked her. But I had no words during that drive. There was no hint of a joyous afterglow to be found.
A few weeks after that prison wedding I performed a small wedding for a couple and I told them the story of my trip to prison. It turned out the groom was a prison guard. He told me the story from the prison's point of view and it made a lot of sense. In a lot of ways, the prison and the chaplain were really looking out for the bride's best interest. It was something she was in no state to truly understand. As an engaged couple, you can
go to pre-marital counseling and discuss the "what ifs." What if one of you falls ill? What if you can't have children? What if you lose a child? What if one of you cheats? It's all hypothetical until it happens and it's easy to say you'd do anything when you are just talking about it and perhaps trying to get the clergy member asking the questions to agree to marry you. The situation changes a lot if one of the people getting married is in prison. There is a reason they are in prison and the fact they are there gives you reason to not give them your blind trust. I'm not saying you can't trust them. I'm saying they should have to earn it.
The prisoner that got married in Orange Is The New Black was corresponding with men in order to get them to give her money. She just happened to fall in love with one of them. This is a very real thing that happens all the time. The groom that was a prison guard explained that it's not uncommon for one prisoner to be corresponding with several women at one time. The women think they are the only one and he loves her and only her. They don't know any better. It's not like they are part of the prison gossip mill. It doesn't work that way. They only know what the prisoner tells them. Often the prisoner will lead the woman on, telling them they will marry them when they get out. Then they get out and it turns out they are already married or they just leave them. While they were in prison, their fiance was putting money in their commissary account so they could eat well and buy things. Wouldn't you want to make sure the person you love eats well and is taken care of? Of course! Even if you get married in prison, you don't know what the prisoner will be like when they get out. Their life is probably not going to be easy. Not every prisoner is like this, not every relationship is like this. But the people who work in prisons see this type of behavior all the time. They see the prisoners as they are in prison. They see prisoners leave and they see them come back. They have a whole different understanding of the situation and it makes a lot of sense.
This particular bride was divorced about three months later. When I asked her why, she said he'd lied. He went back to taking drugs and got into trouble. She also said she knew. She knew from the beginning she shouldn't have done it. She knew him before he went to prison, she married him while he was in prison, and he's still in prison. She knew him. She also believed in him. She loved him unconditionally. She bent over backward to marry him. And he lied. And she divorced him. Looking back, she said the chaplain and the people at the prison were right. She just didn't want to listen. She had been paying his commissary. She was working on his appeal to get him out of prison. She was truly sacrificing for him. And he lied. Yes, you could laugh or be matter of fact and say "what did you expect? He's in prison?" But honestly, it has nothing to do with the prison part. People lie all the time. They may be big lies or they may be little lies. Maybe you get caught in a lie, maybe you don't. It's not only a chance you take in love, it's a chance you take in life.
There is two sides to every story. There is literally good and bad in everything. We all make sacrifices for the ones we love. Sometimes they are easy sacrifices, sometimes they are hard. I'm a wedding officiant that will marry pretty much anyone. I've see a lot. Some things I've understood, some things I probably only thought I understood. If you are reading this because you want to marry someone in prison, I many have made you feel better about your decision, whatever it is. Most of me wants to say I'm on the side of the prison. You should not marry a person in prison. But there is a part of me that says, follow your heart and life is a learning experience. We feel love and experience it more fully when we are actively giving love unconditionally.
Read part one of this blog here.
I decided to write this blog post to help couples feel comfortable as they are looking for a wedding officiant. I hope it answers your questions or puts your mind as ease.
This is an update to this post that was published earlier this year. I've recently completely updated my website and my formal wedding ceremony services. I've found that couples have new need with every season. I'm now offering a better price structure for formal weddings so you only need to pay for what you actually want and need, I've added a new ceremony website called It's all about the Ceremony! so couples can have more flexibility in creating their own ceremony. I've provided the tools for free that I used to charge for because I found most couples didn't need the extra help. I have more pre-written formal ceremonies to choose from. I've also added a wedding ceremony consulting services for couples who really want to DIY their own ceremony and to help those who want to perform wedding ceremonies. I'm so excited about all I have to offer and the new couples I'm meeting!
It’s January! It’s time to hunker down now that the holiday rush is through and it’s time to address wedding details. Chances are you already have the venue, the caterer and the photographer. Those are usually the most important decisions to make. What’s your date? Where are you getting married? Who’s going to feed everyone? And, who’s going to capture it all in pictures? You’ve probably said “Yes!” to the dress. If you are getting married in a church you have most likely booked your pastor or priest and are in the midst of pre-marital classes and counseling, meeting the requirements to get married in your church. Or, maybe not. Maybe you just realized you need to hire an officiant to marry you. How do you do that?
This time of year, I’m spending a lot of time on correspondence and meeting with couples who are looking a wedding officiant. I do a lot of talking before booking. There are many interesting points I’ve recognized in during the process and you might find them helpful.
I’m always booking weddings. It’s a Monday morning and I have a Small Family Wedding in Greenwood at noon today. I added online scheduling and I booked a Civil Ceremony for tomorrow afternoon last night while I was sitting in bed. The couple didn’t have to call or email, they are in need of a simple service and just booked it. I’ll meet them for the first time tomorrow when we sign their marriage license. My calendar can be nearly empty right now, as I look at it, and somehow, by the end of December, I’ll have married somewhere around 500 couples. It’s the nature of my business.
I can look over my calendar for the year and see weekends that have weddings scheduled with large chunks of time blocked out. Those are something completely different. Those are the formal weddings that are usually a year or more in the making. Formal Weddings are something completely different. Formal Weddings require planning, planning and more planning. They also require a lot of money and discussions as to how that money is going to be spent. Some people plan right down to the minute detail and other plan a little more broadly and allow the details to fall where they may.
I’ve got several wedding’s on my calendar that have been booked a year or more in advance. Those couples are generally choosing Indy as the place to get married but no longer live here. They may have grown up here, have family here or they went to school here. Sometimes, Indy is a great central location for everyone to meet in the middle of the country. These couples are doing all of their planning from a distance and know they need to look at details and book everything ahead of time. They usually plan to be in Indy several weekends over the year before their wedding and they schedule meetings to meet with all of their vendors while they are here. They have to be that organized. I have a strong online presence and I have a very detailed website. My business is set up to do just about all the planning online. My weddings that are booked a year or more in advance are usually booked by these couples. They know it will be worth the money to hire a local professional they can easily have digital access to.
I’m spending a lot of time at Starbucks this month meeting couples. Many of these couples don’t really know what they are looking for, they know they need to find a person to marry them and they are looking at their options. They might schedule several meetings with different officiants to get an idea of who may be a good match for them. Often, couples don’t know anything about a wedding ceremony and I give them a lot of information during the meeting. Some couples are just scheduling meetings because an online checklist tells them they should meet with several different vendors to find the perfect one. Some couples have done a lot of research on who they’d like to marry them and have narrowed it down to a few they are meeting with.
I’ve learned a lot from meeting with so many couples. I’m not offended if someone doesn’t choose me to marry them. I realize I don’t really have any competition as a wedding officiant for formal weddings. Couples are really looking for a good match for them. Often, they have certain needs they need met. They may need someone with a certain look. I’m not a man. You might need a man to marry you for whatever reason. There are couples who specifically want a woman to marry them. Many formal weddings I perform are based on religious aspects. I book secular humanists that don’t want any mention of God in their ceremony and are happy to find someone that is willing to do that. Other couples want an interfaith ceremony that honors their different religious backgrounds. Some couples need a wedding officiant that can write and perform a ceremony that will make their families happy and not force them to compromise their own feelings and beliefs during their wedding ceremony. Once, a couple literally said,
“We decided if we have to have a ceremony we wanted it to be kinda crazy and different so we decided you fit the bill.” I think that was a compliment? It was an awesome wedding, either way.
I’ve learned when meeting couples I get a chance to see if I really want to work with them. I know I get critiqued during a meeting. I’m doing the same thing. How did this couple correspond with me? Will I get along with them? Can I reasonably meet their needs? You might have a difficult situation. I totally understand that. I often have the skills you need to meet your needs and it’s not difficult for me. I’m probably closer to your parents age and can communicate with them easily to ease their minds about a non-church wedding. It’s just what I do. Sometimes when I get an email saying the couple has decided to hire a different officiant I can see why. We just didn’t get along at all. I understand how important this is to you and I want what is best for you and respect that only you know what really is best for you. Your wedding and your ceremony is a big deal! I might look good on paper, but you need an actual person to perform your wedding. Some people just need a bland man in a suit to say the perfunctory words expected during a wedding ceremony.
And then again, sometimes your wedding ceremony is really not a big deal. You never even really gave it much thought. The dress, the party, the band, the bridal party, the honeymoon… That’s all that’s really important. Maybe you are on the countdown to your wedding and your coordinator at your venue asked who your wedding officiant is and you just realized you don’t have one. I book a lot of formal weddings 4 months or less from the wedding date. Sometimes I don’t even meet these couples until the rehearsal or the wedding. We do everything by email. Often with just a few emails. They make a deposit, I send a ceremony, they either like the ceremony I send them or they lightly edit it and that’s it. They pay in full, and that’s it.
Maybe you asked a friend or family member to marry you and now that it’s getting closer to the day you realize that situation is just not going to work out. Maybe in the beginning you figured you could write your own ceremony or your friend said they would take care of it and then backed out. You might have thought that you could save money on this aspect of your wedding or that you would enjoy writing the ceremony. You then realize that you have so many things on your plate right now that hiring a pro is actually worth the money and gives you peace of mind. Marry Me In Indy! To the rescue! I get calls and emails from mom’s or sisters or Maid’s of Honor a little frantic. I’m usually able to help.
This past summer I went from a leisurely holiday weekend to two formal weddings in a row. I’m usually that flexible. Couples choose to get married at all sorts of different times.
Holiday weekends usually have Sunday weddings. Some weeks have formal weddings on Thursday or Friday. Not just Saturday. You can often save money on your venue by choosing a time that’s not Saturday afternoon at 4:30. I might book small weddings in the morning or early afternoon and then still have the evening open. You never know until you ask.
A wedding officiant is not a priest or a pastor. I became a wedding officiant because the priest that married me and my husband was a controlling, power hungry jerk. He was flexing his power because he knew he could and it was humiliating. Usually, I can be just about anything you need me to be. I can pray, I can not pray. I can communicate effectively with your parents, I can make everyone laugh or cry. I love my job and how diverse it is. You might be like everyone else in a lot of ways but you aren’t. You are you. You and the person you choose to marry are unique. As you enter into marriage you enter into an intimate relationship that only the two of you share. In your secrets or sense of humor or both. How you view the world is unique to you. I’m open to whatever you bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to ask! What you think may be a huge problem probably isn’t. It might have a very simple solution you simply hadn’t thought of or thought possible.
Please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m happy to help!
Should I hire a professional wedding officiant or should I have a friend marry us?
This is a great question! I recently came across this questions on a wedding forum. The bride is having a small wedding of about 40 people in a restaurant. She has 4 family members or friends who could marry them. She is trying to decide if she should choose one of them or hire a professional. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer, there is only the best answer for each couple.
As a professional wedding officiant, the most logical answer would be to say anything to produce business. But, I perform an enormous number of budget weddings so I understand the needs of couples getting married and have created services with prices to reflect those needs. I might do one or two large weddings a weekend during the busier wedding months but I perform budget weddings just about every day of the year. I’ve got perspective on the subject. I've developed services to help you make your decision. I've got several different wedding officiant services with different prices and I also provide wedding ceremony consulting.
First of all, in order to get married it’s just a legal document that you need to get from the county clerk’s office and then you need to have the legal document - the marriage license - signed. You need a person that can legally sign the paper. As an ordained minister, I can do that. Indiana is now full of ordained ministers for the sake of marrying couples. It’s a signature on a piece of paper. A wedding is something completely different.
Several years ago, I had some of my friends and neighbors performing weddings. I started as a stay at home mom trying to generate some extra income so I offered the same opportunity to them. I had one neighbor that has a degree in drama from IU. She can literally “perform” a wedding ceremony. Tell her what kind of wedding officiant you want and she can do that. It’s acting. My husband’s boss was having a destination wedding. We were unable to travel to marry them at their destination so I signed their marriage license with them over lunch before they left. They were legally married. Then, they had a friend perform the ceremony at their destination. Their friend had a wonderful time with it. He was preparing and practicing and it was awesome. They knew he would be great at it when they asked him and he was thrilled to have the opportunity!
Anyone can “perform” a ceremony. A religious leader may perform rituals in a religious ceremony that they are qualified to do within their religion that marries you within that religion. The state gives that religious leader the legal ability to make your marriage legal in the eyes of the state, however you are not required to have a religious ceremony in order to be legally married. You have a choice. I’m an ordained minister and that allows me to legally marry couples. The church that ordains me does so to promote religious freedom. There are no requirements so I can, and do, perform all types of ceremonies. I perform mostly romantic ceremonies that don’t invoke God in any way. A lawyer or a judge usually does the same thing.
If your wedding ceremony is very important to you and you want to orchestrate a formal ceremony with a large bridal party you need a person that is capable of doing that. A wedding officiant can do that, a wedding planner can do that, a friend or relative can do that. It depends on your experience. If you are having a large formal wedding ceremony and reception you most likely want to hire a professional to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. If you don’t want to do the research yourself, hire a professional to give you the information you need and organize your ceremony for you.
The ceremony itself is something different. A religious wedding is already written for you. You follow an service in a prayer book. All Catholics take part in the same ceremony. If you are not having a religious ceremony in a church you can have any sort of ceremony you want. There is an amazing amount of information on the internet as to how to put put together a wedding ceremony. I’ve gathered a lot of it, including wedding ceremonies that are already written. The information is there. If you read through a few ceremonies you’ll get an idea of what you want and don’t want in your ceremony. I give couples ideas and choices when I write their wedding ceremony. Many couples read it through and love it. It’s perfect. They choose a set of vows and they are done. I put that ceremony and many other ceremonies right on my website now. Anyone can read it, download it and use it. When I personalize a ceremony for a couple the couple needs to help me with that. I need to get to know enough about a couple in order to personalize a ceremony. Often, I will just point a couple in the right direction and they write the personal things themselves. I can’t write personal vows for you. I can point you in the right direction of how to express your feelings but only you can do that. Some couples already know exactly what they want. They give it to me to perform and that’s it. Sometimes I don’t even meet them before the rehearsal or the ceremony. I’m just the hired help.
If you are booking a wedding officiant many will make you book your wedding with them and put down a deposit before they will talk ceremony with you. They don’t want you to steal the ceremony and have someone else perform it. Chances are, they are using the same basic ceremony with every couple they marry. They create an illusion that they are doing something only they can do. I understand this. I’ve spent a lot of time with couples who just want ceremony information. I don’t make money off the conversations and it’s actually pretty hard to charge for the conversation. I’ve got all of it saved on my files so I decided to just to publish it on my website. It’s free to use. Some of it’s original, most of it is information I’ve gathered and put together in a new way. There are some officiants that do write a whole new ceremony for each couple. Some say it takes them quite a bit of time to do so. To be fair, it does take several hours to write an unique and personal ceremony. But is it necessary? Only you can decide.
I’ve had couples book me to officiate their ceremony and paid top dollar and specified they wanted a short, to the point ceremony. 7 minutes seems to be the magical number for many. One bride really just wanted to enjoy her very lavish party. Another couple was just too scared they would cry through the entire thing and wanted to avoid it. Both couples said they received compliments on the length of the ceremony. With that perspective, you might not find it necessary to hire a professional.
One big aspect you may want to keep in mind in how well the ceremony is performed. I know that I can perform my ceremonies well. I can invoke emotion and insert humor. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve performed weddings by death beds of loved ones or in cancer units of hospitals. Humor wasn’t appropriate there. I’ve listened to friends or family members read a poem or passage and nobody could hear or the presentation was flat. Couples looking for a friend or family member to perform their wedding ceremony usually look for someone with a great personality.
Another perspective I’ve come across, actually pretty common in the bible belt, are couples who have several pastors in their family. They don’t know which one to choose so they hire someone. Often, the couple is not religious at all so they hire me to perform a secular ceremony and if they need to, can blame it on me. I’m OK with that. I want couples to have the ceremony they want. That’s my job.
Weddings always have the reputation for being expensive. Either you have money to spend on a wedding without thinking about it or you are watching every penny. The first questions from most couples is “how much?” You have to make a list of priorities and decide what you are getting for your money. There are professionals that charge a lot of money and may not deliver a spectacular ceremony. There are others that charge a lot less and love their job and deliver perfection.
It’s your ceremony. What do you imagine your ceremony to be and why? What do you really want? I had two weddings. One in my husband’s native Germany and another in the church I grew up in. The first one was in German and required a legal translator, the second was a disaster because the priest decided to be a real jerk. But honestly? In the end, all I really wanted was to spend the rest of my life with my husband. That was a commitment we had already made without words. The weddings were for legal reasons and because that is what I really thought I should do. I grew up in the church I wanted to be married in because “that’s what people do.” Looking back after 25 years it’s really not the ceremony, it was the time we spent together on our honeymoon, decorating our house and being together that mattered.
Should you hire a professional of have a friend or family member marry you? You marry each other.
We are getting married because.... reasons couples sign their marriage license.
Much of what I do as a professional, full time wedding officiant is simply sign marriage licenses. Over the last eight years I've literally signed over 2000 marriage licenses. I've learned in many cultures, the signing of the marriage license or "contract" is a very intrical part of the marriage ceremony. They will sign the license during the actual ceremony instead of before or after, as is normal in the United States. I was really surprised by all the pictures being taken during such a simple process of signing a paper. The reason I used to think this way is based on what most people think getting married is.
I have found, most Americans getting married think that to "get married the right way" is still based on the tradition of being married in white by a preacher in a church. Often, people think of "just going down to the courthouse and getting married by a judge" is lesser than a religious ceremony. Somehow, the ceremony means something. Along the same train of thought, many couples think of a wedding as more of a tradition with certain things you just do. You wear a white dress, you have a bridal party with a flower girl, your dad walks you down the aisle and gives you away, you are supposed to be nervous and you'll probably cry. You have to have all the trimmings of a wedding with flowers and a DJ and a reception with food and a cake and bridal showers, bachelor parties and honeymoon vacations..... Obviously, I've not participated in 2000 of these types of weddings. Hiring a wedding officiant is actually a rather non-traditional thing to do. If tradition dictates you get married by a preacher in a church, you hire a preacher, not a professional wedding officiant.
I'm not really in the wedding business. I'm in the marriage business. Sure, I perform weddings. It's one of my skill sets as a wedding officiant but what I really do is make your marriage legal. I'm an ordained minister, that gives me legal authority in the state of Indiana to make your marriage official. You obtain a license to marry from the county clerk and then it has to be signed. I witness the couples being married sign the license and I sign the license attesting to the fact I did. It's very cut and dry.
Being legally married is the act of entering into a legal contract. By entering into the legal contract you are afforded certain rights under the law. A person who enters into marriage with a traditional mindset might think of as "you get half." When you get divorced, you divide everything equally. This is not the romance of a wedding but it is a fact of marriage. When you go to the county clerk and apply for your marriage license they ask you questions. The questions they ask have nothing to do with what people think about when they are getting married. They never as the thing a preacher would ask during premarital counseling like, do you love each other? Will your love stand the test of time? Do you intend to stay together forever, through thick and thin, in good times and bed, in sickness and and health, and most importantly, until death do you part? What they actually ask is, are you here of your own free will? Are you under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Are you related any more then second cousins - yes, you can always marry your second cousin, you have to wait until you are 65 to marry your first cousin. Have you ever be declared mentally unstable? That is actually asking are you legally sane? There are people who are legally insane who can't enter into a legal contract. There are also people who are not mentally able to take care of their own affairs, for example, they may be lower on the autism spectrum and be a legal ward to their parents or the state and therefore not able to enter into a legal contract. What they are essentially asking is, are you able to be issued a marriage license under the law.
So, all the above, is the information I feel people need to understand before I get to the really interesting reasons I've encountered recently why people are really just signing a marriage license. The end of the year and the beginning of the year quick marriages usually have to do with taxes. Couples want to get married before the end of the year so they can file their taxes married filing joint for tax benefits. It doesn't work for everyone. You need to check with someone like an accountant or tax attorney to know what will work best for you. What your actual taxable income is has a huge effect on a lot of things. Student loans is a big one. I've had couples have formal weddings and wait to sign the marriage license later because they needed to maintain their single, lower income status to qualify to low interest loans or grants for college. This year, we had a couple who had a five year plan. The bride's daughter is in her last year of college, all her financial aid was secured and now, mom could safely and legally change he income by entering into a legal marriage. I married one young couple that went through all the criteria to qualify for financial aid they could afford and the only thing they could do to change their status was get married, so they did. If this sounds appealing to you, check with a legal authority first to be sure. Taxes have changed, I'm performing a wedding ceremony for a couple in May, when I spoke with them they had already checked the tax
laws to see if it would have been better for them to sign the paperwork in 2017 or wait until they 2018 wedding date.
Health insurance is probably the most popular reason couples get legally married without the ceremony. I've received calls from couples saying they just found out one of them had cancer and they needed to get married right away because the other had much better insurance. I've married couples who have traveled from out of state to visit a cancer specialist in Indy and decided to get married while they are here. I know I've married couples who were really just best friends and they were helping their critically ill friend get insurance they need. There are couples that are already planning their formal wedding but one of they has had an unexpected job change and needs insurance now. They'll just sign the license early to get the insurance. I married one couple who had been married in their native country in Africa 15 years ago. They were both independently employed and filed their taxes separately, both were US citizens and had nothing else to gain but affordable health insurance.
Gaining custody rights of your child is another popular reason to get married. If you are legally married you might have a better chance of getting full custody of your child vs. an unmarried parent. Again, consult an attorney. I recently married a couple that had been together for several years. The bride had a child from a previous relationship. She and the child’s father had a very amicable relationship. They had a very common condition in their custody agreement that should one of them need to someone else watch their child while they were had physical custody they would contact the other to give them the opportunity first. In this situation, they couple had no problem. It’s was the grandparents that wanted that option. The bride and groom had been living together for several years, the child was used to this situation and it was normal. They had been putting off getting married, as many couples do, until they could afford a formal wedding with the bells and whistles. Because the bride and groom were not legally married, the grandparents considered the groom a babysitter. Legally,they could get a lawyer to fight it for them. To avoid it, the couple got legally married.
One of the more interesting situations I’ve heard lately involved an annuity. The groom was part of a union. The annuity had was poorly invested and losing money like crazy. He said he lost around $50K. He couldn’t just say he wanted out of the annuity. However,if he got divorced, they would have to dissolve it. So, the went to a lawyer and filed an uncontested divorce. (They had no children together.) They were able to dissolve the annuity and then they got remarried. I met them and signed their license while they were eating lunch. Plain and simple.
Another interesting situation along those lines involved a couple that worked for the same company. They weren’t allowed to be married and work in the same department. They didn’t only have to get divorced, she changed her name and her address. Several years later, one of them decided to switch departments so they got remarried. Apparently it was an amazing job with great benefits!
Another MAJOR reason for getting legally married is to change your immigration status. I’ve been asked how I feel about this. Sham marriages are definitely a real thing. I can usually tell if this is the situation, however, it’s not for me to say. I didn’t issue the marriage license, the clerk did. One of the questions they ask that you have to raise your right hand and swear to is not “are you getting married for the purpose of legal immigration?” Sometimes couples put on a good act, afraid I might choose not to marry them. Pastors can decline to marry a couple for any reason. I don’t do that. It’s not for me to judge. The couple getting married will need to deal with immigration directly and they will be the judge. I do know that there are people who pay american citizens to marry them. I recently spoke with someone who said he was offered $10K to marry a woman. She would pay him $3K up front. They would need to have a joint address, he wouldn’t have to live there. They would need to have a joint bank account, he wouldn’t have to contribute to it. When she got her permanent green card she would pay for the divorce and he would get the other $7K. He was really shocked by it. Every time I tell these stories I get more points of view. Apparently, $10K is cheap. The going rate is more like $20K. Some people would pay up to $35K. I was also told by a groom his sister had entered into one of those agreements and never received the final pay out.
Honestly? People get married for all sorts of reasons. You never know if it’s going to last. Two american citizens could meet online and get married the following week. That really happens. They may know each other a day or a week or a month or a year. You know how long you hope it will last but you never know how long it actually will.
I will save my probably sham marriage stories for another blog post!!
I just performed my first wedding when the bride was underage. Her dad called an hour ago. They had just left the courthouse and decided to head up to Fishers for my $50 Quickie. WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY???? Inquiring minds want to know...
Indiana, you must be 18 years old to get married. I have married some couples on an 18th birthday. Today, was my first 17 year old bride. If you are 17, you are allowed to marry if you have permission from both of your parents. If you are 16, you must obtain a court order and also have consent of both of your parents. Here is the link to the online information:
It may be impolite, but they were down to earth people, so I asked. Why? The bride said when she gets married she would be legally considered an adult and that was her goal. She had a well paying job lined up and is finishing her High School Diploma online. Her husband graduated from high school with honors when he was 15 and had two college degrees. Obviously, they understand the necessities of life. Do you need to stay in school until your 18 and graduate with your class? No, you do not. Life just keeps on going. She wasn't pregnant. There were no religious or cultural reasons, she just wanted to get married.
One of the things I love most about my job as a wedding officiant is the variety of people I meet, the stories I hear and the things I learn. At first glance, some things look crazy. Then you ask a few questions and listen to the answers and it all makes sense. I offer a professional service as a wedding officiant. It's not my place to judge you by anybody's standards. You are free to do what you like.
I performed a short and sweet wedding ceremony for a lovely couple this afternoon. They were remarrying each other. The ceremony was held in Garfield Park Conservatory and it was quite meaningful with just very close family in attendance. When we were done, I was taking pictures of all of them together and the groom said "Do you every pronounce anyone health insured?!?" The statement caught me off guard, made me laugh, and get very serious all at the same time.
I marry people far too often for health insurance. It's not that they don't love each other. Usually, they've been together for years, happily, not legally married. Other times, I've married couples because they just found out one of them is seriously ill and uninsured. Marriage may have not quite have been in the plans, but it was today, because it was a matter of life and death and avoiding bankruptcy. I received a call from a couple last year that was looking to be remarried. One of them had been seriously ill and they had accumulated insurmountable debt. They dealt with debt by divorcing, having one of them file for bankruptcy and then remarrying. I'm not sure how they did that but I was shocked by it. I was fascinated by the legal hoops they went through in order to do it, yet shocked they had to. I'm sure a lot of research went into that decision.
I spent several hours in City Market on Valentines Day marrying couples. They were secret weddings. One was for health insurance, another was tying up loose ends before the groom deploys to destinations unknown. In between those two weddings was the lunch rush. I was joined at my table by a gentlemen and shortly after, his 4 office mates. He actually came right out and said "don't you think it's wrong that people have to get married in order to get insurance, or affordable insurance?" Yes. Yes I do.
To quote a current popular phrase, I was shook.
Most of my weddings are very small and I meet the couple for the first time when I'm signing their marriage license and/or performing a ceremony. I try to make the interaction as friendly as possible and I have questions I always ask couples while I'm filling out the license so it's not an awkward few minutes of silence. Usually "how long have you been together?" "How many kids to you have?" "Do people know you are here getting married?" I usually continue the banter with interesting answers other people have given.
Sometimes couples were high school sweethearts and they found each other again 20 years later and are finally getting married. Sometimes they've been together for years but now have a reason they need to get married like, insurance or they've decided to join a church that requires them to be married. It's 2018. You don't need to get married to live together and raise children. Sometimes couples have known each other a matter of weeks.
I've married a lot of couples and I can usually get a pretty good feel for them. There have been couples who just knew they were meant to be together and decided not to wait, they knew they were going to get married at some point and today is as good as any. One couple knew on their first day. They picked up their marriage license the next day but then waited 30 days and got married on their one month anniversary, just to be sure. I could tell, just by looking at them, it was right. Another couple got engaged in the car in Starbucks on their first date. I married them in a lovely, formal affair in a downtown hotel six weeks later. Then, there are the interesting answers... How about... We met last week on Craigslist. Yes, that happens.
I often meet the couples right by the clerk's office for the small, quick Civil Ceremonies so they can take the license back inside and file it right away. It's meant to be super convenient and pick up where the clerk's office leaves off, as you can no longer get married in the City County Building in Indianapolis. With the civil ceremony you can return the license right away and have it filed and complete the legal process of getting married. I also like to tell couples that they have 30 days from the time the license is signed to return it to the clerk's office. This is helpful if
they aren't getting married next to the courthouse. They may be going on a honeymoon or have other things to do before returning the license. By law, the license needs to be returned within 30 days after it's signed. This can be an all around good thing. You have time to take it but. BUT, you also have time to think about it.
For several years, I performed a "$50 Quickie" wedding in my home. That was right after the courthouse stopped performing marriages. I was the lowest published price and I was busy. Couples would have no problem traveling to Fishers to get married and saving, often $100 in the process. Most couples would go right back downtown and file their license and others would wait. More than once I've received a call asking "if we don't return the license are we married?" Technically, you are married when we sign the papers. But if you never file the papers with the clerk they have no record of the marriage so legally, you are not married. There is often a sigh of relief on the other side of the line when I say that. They have realized that they made a mistake and move on easily.
Several years ago I married a couple in their home. The bride called me several weeks later saying she needed an annulment. I asked her if she had filed the papers. If she did, she needed a divorce, I couldn't help her with that. I think she was right next to her husband when she said she had filed the papers. He called a few minutes later saying they needed counseling. They needed to work it out. I don't do annulments and I don't provide counseling so there wasn't much I could do. It turned out she had lied when she said she filed the paperwork. She never did. They were not legally married. She had trusted her instincts.
There was another bide who had not known her groom long. She had lots of questions about the process and we had spoken several times. When I finally met her the day of the wedding I felt like I already knew her. They had a problem getting to the clerk's office on time the day before so they didn't have their marriage license yet. It wasn't a problem. We performed the wedding for family and friends and I planned to meet them at the clerk's office on Monday to sign the papers. Sunday night, she called me as she was filling out the online application. She was going through all the documentations and ID they needed. He was from another country. His divorce decree from his last marriage had been issues a few days earlier and was hand delivered to him along with his birth certificate. As she compared the birth certificate to his passport, she realize they had different birth dates. They are both legal documents. She didn't say it but I'm sure she was wondering... If his passport was correct, what were these two other documents? Could she trust them? Later that night, I received a text saying she wouldn't be a the clerk's office the next morning. I was relieved, I didn't have to get downtown that early. I was also hoping she was driving off into the night, never to return, having dodged a bullet. To quote a current popular phrase, I was shook.
Most people think of marriage as a happy, joyful thing to be celebrated. It's not always. A couple may be entering into a marriage I don't agree with but it's not my life. It's theirs. It's their decision to make. I may ask questions, no one has to answer them. I'm just being friendly. If you are being evasive, that's your prerogative. I'm not bothered by it. I don't even question it. It is what it is. I do hope you question it.
Adventures of a wedding officiant! Stories about my experiences as a wedding officiant in Indy.