Great news…having a friend or family member officiate your wedding is surprisingly easy, at least in Pennsylvania. Because this is one of the MOST frequently asked questions we hear from brides, we thought it was high time to devote a post to this topic and debunk some myths!
There are many reasons couples choose to have someone close to them perform their wedding ceremony. For most, it’s a way to make the celebration extremely personal. There’s something extra special about having a parent, grandparent, sibling, or even close friend preside over your wedding vows. For other couples, they want to honor a person by giving them a special role in one of the most important days of their lives. Either way, this change of the status quo is becoming increasingly popular…and it’s not nearly as hard as you think. Follow these tips for a smooth and easy process for saying “I do!” with someone you know at the helm.
They do not need to get ordained online.
Contrary to what you might read on the internet, your family/friend does NOT need to get ordained. Don’t fall for those gimmicky online programs and save your money! They certainly can become ordained if they want to, but it’s not necessary in order to preside over your ceremony.
You must obtain a self-uniting marriage license.
In order for your ceremony to be officiated by a friend, family, or someone who is otherwise NOT recognized by Pennsylvania as a religious or state official, you only need to do one thing. When applying for a marriage license at the Department of Court Records, request a self-uniting marriage license. Be prepared that this type of license may cost more than a traditional license in some counties, like Washington County. However, it’s as legally binding as a standard marriage license and valid in all Pennsylvania counties. The only difference is that instead of having a spot for the officiant to sign and make it official in the eyes of the county, there are lines for two witnesses. Get two John Hancocks and BOOM, you’re married!
After the wedding, file the paperwork.
Just because the big day is over doesn’t mean the work is. Within 10 days of the ceremony, you must file the license with the office in which it was obtained. A marriage record doesn’t exist (and technically, you aren’t legally married) until this happens, so don’t let it fall through the cracks! Typically, the priest or officiant would handle this. BUT if Uncle Jim is solemnizing your marriage, the responsibility falls on the couple! If you’re headed on your honeymoon right after your wedding, make sure this paperwork is put in the mail BEFORE you leave as to not let the 10-day window pass.
Know the burden of proof is on you.
If there is ever a question as to the validity of your marriage, know the burden of proof will fall on you. While it’s unlikely to ever happen, you’ll be on the hook for actually proving the wedding happened, should any issues ever arise in the future. To do this, request a triple-seal copy (an absolute MUST!) of the marriage record after the wedding. Every couple needs to do this anyways, regardless of who performs the ceremony, but it’s extra important for those with a self-uniting license. This will allow you to prove the legality of your marriage, should you ever need to.
On the other hand, if you want to stick with tradition and have a religious leader or ordained officiant preside over your marriage, we can recommend some great ones. Check out our favorite Pittsburgh wedding officiants in the Burgh Brides Vendor Guide! Some of these officiants will even write a ceremony for your friend or family member to perform!
A very special thanks to Mark of A Simple Vow for fact-checking this post! You can find him in our Vendor Guide too!