Legal Marriage vs Marriage Ceremony

A common confusion when getting married is the distinction between the ceremony and the legal act of marrying. When we think of weddings, we tend to think of the legal and the ceremonial as being intertwined and integral to each other. While this is typically the case, it doesn’t have to be.

Just the Paperwork

Each state has very specific laws about who may officiate a marriage. There are also other technical details associated with the marriage license process. Similarly, each state determines what the officiant and couple need to say – or more accurately, what they don’t need to say! There are no requirements for specific words to be said for a marriage to be legal – Not in any of the states that findaJP serves. (We’ve outlined what the specific requirements are in each state in our FAQ. ) In practical terms, this means that once you affirm to your JP or notary your intentions to marry, and your paperwork is in order, you can be married. With or without a ceremony.

A Ceremony Your Way

If you do choose to have a ceremony, you can say whatever your hearts desire. Short and sweet. A favorite poem. Your own personal love story. Professional officiants are experienced and can help you find your words. To get started, our article with how-to tips might help.

Your wedding day is special. It should reflect what is important to you, whether with pomp and circumstance or a quiet elopement. Alternatively, if a formal ceremony is not for you, simply stating that you want to marry your love in front of your officiant, and sign the paperwork. No matter which you choose, your justice of the peace or notary are there to support you.

This article was revised from its original, published on March 19, 2013.

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Loretta Jay is the Managing Member of the Justice of the Peace Association. This is the membership organization for professional marriage officiants. All officiants’ profiles are searchable at, the place where Couples who Click can find their perfect JP.

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