The ceremony went off without a hitch. But now that it is over, the couple wants to be unhitched. Or, preferably, never hitched at all.
What’s a JP to do?
You witnessed the affirmation. And now, the couple says they don’t want to be married. They ask you, their officiant, not to submit the paperwork. To pretend like it never happened. Like, um, you never met us. Okay?
Well, not so fast.
Each state’s laws are presented differently, but all essentially say the same thing. Once the officiant solemnizes the marriage, he or she must record it and process the paperwork as specified by law. Notably, New Hampshire’s law is the most clear when it comes to a couple changing their mind, as it addresses this situation directly.
Each person who joins any person in marriage shall certify upon the license certificate the fact, time and place of the marriage, and return it to the registrar of the town where the marriage took place, before or during the first week of the month following the marriage. Any person who fails to do so shall be fined not more than ten dollars. Sec.46b-34. (Formerly Sec. 46-7).
Within 10 days after solemnizing the marriage (the notary) shall make a certificate thereof on the license, and shall transmit the same to the office of the county court judge or clerk of the circuit court from which it issued. 741.01.
Every person authorized to unite persons in marriage shall make and keep a record of every marriage solemnized by that person in conformity with the forms and instructions prescribed by the State Registrar of Vital Statistics pursuant to Title 22, section 2701.
The person who solemnized the marriage shall return the marriage license to the State Registrar of Vital Statistics or the clerk who issued the license within 7 working days following the date on which the marriage is solemnized by that person. 654.
Every justice of the peace… shall make and keep a record of each marriage solemnized by him. He shall also return each certificate issued under section twenty-eight no later than the tenth day of the month following each month in which marriages are solemnized by him to the clerk or registrar who issued the same. Chapter 207, Section 40.
The record of a marriage made and kept as provided by law by the person by whom the marriage was solemnized …shall be prima facie evidence of such marriage. Chapter 207, Section 45.
Whoever neglects to make the record and returns required by section forty shall forfeit not less than twenty nor more than one hundred dollars. Chapter 207, Section 56.
A justice of the peace is required to report the fact that a marriage has taken place even if the spouses ask him or her not to. RSA 5-C:49.
After the (officiant) has solemnized the marriage, he or she shall fill out that part of the form on the license provided for his or her use, sign it, and certify to the occurrence and date of the marriage. Thereafter the document shall be known as a civil marriage certificate.
Such certificate shall be returned within ten days to the office of the town clerk from which the license issued by the person solemnizing such marriage. 18 V.S.A. § 5131.