Marriage is a huge commitment. While it is very much something that’s under the purview of the government, it is also something that huge social and religious ramifications. If you are getting married to someone who has been involved before, you may be looking to figure out what his legal marital status is like. While there are many steps that go into getting legally married, the step you might be concerned about is the wedding ceremony itself. You may, in fact, be wondering if a marriage is even valid if there is no ceremony. Understand the answer to this question means understanding a bit about marriage in the United States and the process of getting married in general.
First and foremost, it’s important to look at how the law looks at marriage. While you may be thinking about relationships and perhaps even spiritual issues, the law is only looking at the change in legal status. When a person goes from being legally single to legally married, he or she experiences several changes in his or her legal status. From taxes to one’s relationships to others in terms of probate, you become a legally different kind of entity once you enter into a marriage. As such, the government’s interest in marriage has everything to do with one’s legal status.
Therefore, a marriage ceremony is not – at least to the government – the most important part of a marriage. Instead, a marriage license is the most important part of the ceremony. Once the license has been signed by the relevant individual, a person is considered to be validly married. This is why many people forego a traditional ceremony and instead visit a justice of the peace to have their marriage formalized. Because the government cannot dictate a person’s spiritual connection to marriage, the government cannot dictate that a person must undergo a specific type of ceremony.
With that said, there is at least one reason why a lack of ceremony might indicate a lack of legal marriage. While a marriage certificate is generally issued at a county clerk, the certificate must be signed by some kind of officiant. This officiant does not have to be a member of the clergy, but the paper must be signed and filed. As such, it’s entirely possible that a marriage that has occurred without a wedding ceremony has not yet become a legally binding marriage.
If you are wondering if your spouse-to-be has been married before, it’s a good idea to look at all the angles. Don’t just look to see if there was a ceremony – look to see if there was a marriage certificate issued. If the certificate was issued, you should then look to see if it was signed and filed. If the latter steps were not taken, the lack of a ceremony will indicate that there was no legal marriage. If there was a signed and filed certificate, however, the marriage is legally binding and you need to consider what your next steps will be.
The lack of a wedding ceremony does not necessarily preclude your spouse to be from having been married before. In fact, he may still be married – and marrying him after he is legally married but before he is divorced will lead to him committing the crime of bigamy in many jurisdictions. If you suspect the person you want to marry is already married, it’s important to confront that person and to do a bit of digging on your own. While he or she may say things are difficult due to a misunderstanding, it’s important to protect your own legal status. If you are not able to determine if the person is legally married, it may be a good idea to contact an attorney. This is one situation where it is better for you to be safe than for you to be sorry.