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Who Can Perform a Wedding?

A question that sometimes arises in family law is whether a marriage in North Carolina was valid. Here, we discuss one of the prerequisites of marriage: solemnization before a proper officiant. 

The statute can be found below: 

  • 51-1. Requisites of marriage; solemnization. 

A valid and sufficient marriage is created by the consent of a male and female person who may lawfully marry, presently to take each other as husband and wife, freely, seriously and plainly expressed by each in the presence of the other, either:  

(1) a. In the presence of an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate; and  

  1. With the consequent declaration by the minister or magistrate that the persons are husband and wife; or 

(2) In accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination, or federally or State recognized Indian Nation or Tribe. Marriages solemnized before March 9, 1909, by ministers of the gospel licensed, but not ordained, are validated from their consummation. 

This statute clearly dictates that a valid marriage must be consented to by parties in the presence of some ordained minister or other religious official, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate, or in some mode of solemnization that is recognized.  

Our Courts have gone on to state that a marriage based on a ceremony in North Carolina not properly solemnized pursuant to the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51–1 is voidable. Voidable meaning that a party may apply to the court for a declaration that a voidable marriage “be declared void from the beginning.” Notably however, that voidable marriage remains valid “for all civil purposes, until annulled by a competent tribunal in a direct proceeding.” 

The major cases in this area stem from ministers of the Universal Life Church. So far, the Courts have interpreted that marriages that are solemnized before one of these ministers may be voidable. Apparently, the ease to which one can become ordained by this Church was of importance to the Court: A ceremony solemnized by [a layman] who bought for $10.00 a mail order certificate giving him ‘credentials of minister’ in the Universal Life Church, not a ceremony of marriage to be recognized for purposes of a bigamy prosecution in the State of North Carolina. Duncan v. Duncan, 232 N.C. App. 369, 754 S.E.2d 451 (2014) (citing State v. Lynch, 301 N.C. 479, 272 S.E.2d 349 (1980)). Although there is a statute, § 51-1.1, that validated marriages performed by these Universal Life Church ministers prior to July 3, 1981, our Courts have interpreted that to mean that it cured defects in these marriages only up to July 3, 1981. Put another way, a marriage only solemnized by a Universal Life Church minister today might be invalid and void. 

Talk to a family law attorney if you have questions about the officiant you want to be present at your marriage. There are many routes to make your special day official, so we can work with you and give you the advice to make the wedding memorable – and legal.