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!!
Adventures of a wedding officiant! Stories about my experiences as a wedding officiant in Indy.