Marriage License Mistakes, Timelines, Deadlines & More-Finding The Right Officiant Is Critical…

Last March, my Beto Unit Bride was arrested. I was shocked and horrified about this but, helpless to change the outcome. There were several “tips” about a troubled day in Tennessee Colony regarding this particular bride as I had three other brides on the same day at the same Unit. 

It’s imperative that everyone be at least 20 minutes early to check in but, the bride in question wouldn’t answer her cell phone in order to give me a reason she was nearly an hour late. Both the Warden and the Chaplain expect me to know where my clients are. If your phone is going to be turned off, your wedding day is the WORST time for this to occur. FYI.

By the time my last bride of the day arrived at Beto, she was walking somewhat precariously but, I believed it was her shoes that were causing the issue. I was wrong it wasn’t her high heels. My Bride had been drinking. I now have contracts for TDCJ Clients that specifically address drinking on wedding day because of this particular incident. 

Hours after leaving the Unit, my Bride was arrested and spent her honeymoon in jail. I always ask if the client would like me to file the license and my Bride insisted on taking it with her. What happened next was that I didn’t hear from her until bonding out nearly a month later. She asked if I had copies of her wedding photos via email? I did and emailed them to her as a courtesy. Frankly, I felt so badly about one of my clients spending their honeymoon in jail that I was more than happy to do so.

Yesterday, my “honeymoon in jail” bride called me. This time it was regarding signing a “Duplicate Marriage License.” Apparently, the original license was damaged when her car had been towed and the clerk had her call me to get consent to sign a duplicate. This is rather uncommon. 

I asked the bride to mail me the Duplicate and assured her that I would priority mail it back. Most weddings are celebratory even when they take place at a Prison or Jail. For me, the melancholy reality of this bride has stuck with me for months now. I’m quite sad about the circumstances of my previous client and due to her “particularly unique situation” also created a contract to specifically address similar instances at Prisons and prevent them from occurring again.  

Prison Wedding Clients rarely meet me in person. The reason for this is that many are flying in from other states or hours from my location in Fort Worth. Because of this, most correspondence is done by phone or email. We won’t meet in person until the day of their event. Meaning- I have no idea what to expect. Reeling in the unexpected is done via the new contract. As a client, the Warden and other TDCJ Staff expect me to keep a “handle” on Clients. 

My responsibility is to get them there early, appropriately dressed and coherent. Throughout the process, I assist them with necessary paperwork and tips on what to wear or bring. The Prison Wedding Planning Process can take up to three months if there is a lock down during the process of obtaining up to six signatures to get permission to marry at a Texas Prison. 

I take my role very seriously when it comes to marriage licenses but, not everyone else does. Today’s blog will revisit why hiring the right vendor will save you time and trouble down the road. 

The option of couples to file the license themselves does exist although I frown on it. Why? Because people forget the timeline involved. There is a shelf life. I file licenses Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week. I also file in person if the clerk is within one hour of Fort Worth or via certified return receipt mail outside DFW with tracking. 

In Texas, failure to file a marriage license is a crime. It’s essential that I keep records to prove any and all licenses that I’ve sent arrived. I’m meticulous about licenses. But, occasionally, the client insists on filing it themselves which opens the window of unexpected issues such as the Beto Bride who couldn’t file her license because she had been detained. 

I could never have known that my bride would be arrested when agreeing to let her file her own license. Who would? Trusting her to file the license in a timely fashion was obviously a mistake on my part. 

But, if a client is hellbent on filing their own license, I can’t change their decision. It’s an option of course that few clients choose because it puts additional stress on couples to get it done and get it done quickly. 

I often find myself trying convincing a client that it’s best to let me handle it because of the short shelf life to file licenses. It’s important to me to know it’s filed and I double check with reminders when clients choose to file on their own. 

I’ve only Amended one Marriage License in eight years. But, I will never forget the circumstances that took my attention from the witnesses. Although I try to get the paperwork done as quickly as possible at weddings and secure the license in my brief case. There was just too much going on at that wedding. 

Normally, we have a quiet moment to get the paperwork done but, at the Lompoc Wedding, the groom had been caught in the lights, the wind blew an SUV door shut locking a toddler in a car, one of the guests passed out on the dance floor and someone else was upset about being cut off at the bar. 

During the window of all of the above occurring, someone else wearing a short dress was inadvertently “flashing” guests on the dance floor because she was also commando, numerous guests, the videographer and others were shocked and upset about this “incident.” The guest was also rather intoxicated. 

Trying to address all of the above by directing my twin sister and niece, Leigh Ann to handle the matters that I obviously couldn’t while supervising the license was stressful for me to say the least. 

I’ve never had so much chaos at the same time at the same event in my life. Quite frankly, I hope I never do again. 

The Officiants job includes overseeing the signature of witnesses. I was carefully  addressing the signature of the first witness but, the guests had  started drinking after the ceremony. Drinking can cause a host of unexiected issues at weddings. 

I now insist on security when there happens to be an Open Bar because over the years, drinking is the primary cause of  “surprises.”

The second witness was signing when the groom asked me a question. My sister was motioning me regarding the guest on the dance floor while my niece was waving her hands regarding the toddler in the locked SUV. 

In the moment it took to answer the groom, I turned away from the second witness for seconds. This was exactly the same time frame of the second witness “correcting” her address. It also caused an issue with the license. 

The bride was immediately upset about the error knowing that any markings outside of the lines or “corrections” were a no no. 

The county clerk had advised the couple of this when they had purchased the license. I quickly took the license to my rental and assured the couple that I would do whatever it took to ensure the license issue was resolved. I meant it. 

Having a bride upset that her “license had been ruined” by the witness altering her address, it was essential for me to calm her down at the wedding. 

Two weeks later, I flew back to Santa Barbara and filed an Amended Petition in order to rectify the marriage license issue. 

I called the bride to let her know that the issue had been resolved and the paperwork would be mailed. The happy ending was that the couple were married and lived happily ever after. 

As an Officiant and Planner, I’m the “fixer.” Whatever it takes, it’s my job to ensure that unexpected issues don’t affect the legalities of any union that I’ve officiated. 

My twin sister, Cindy and niece, Leigh Ann were working the wedding with me. In eight years, the Lompoc Wedding was the most chaos filled event that we have ever done. I’m being serious. 

It’s difficult to “top” a few of our events over the years but, Lompoc did. No one looking at the “polished photos” or videos would have any inkling of the drama or chaos but, believe me there was PLENTY. 
The lesson I learned that day was to get the witnesses to sign before visiting the bar and to keep my attention directly on the witness. But, I have learned that witnesses and guests can be unpredictable. 

Also, trying to be everywhere at once at larger events requires more than Cindy and I with Leigh Ann. 

We now have a minimum of 4 Team Members to address parties of 100 or more as well as at least one security team member at events with Open Bars. 

My Beto Bride was full of surprises too but, I’m hoping that things start looking up for her. Today, we will revisit Marriage Licenses, the role of the Officiant and why filing a license quickly is critical to the license not expiring. 

What’s the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate?

A marriage license is a document that you must obtain from the county clerk before you get married. A marriage certificate is a document that proves you’re married.

How do inmates obtain a marriage license if they are incarcerated?

They don’t. The person on the “outside” must get the person on the “inside” to get a notarized ID and a notarized Absentee Affidavit. Using both of these documents, the person on the “outside” will then purchase the marriage license.  

The person on the “outside” will also locate a Texas Department Of Criminal Justice Approved Officiant to conduct the marriage ceremony inside a Texas Prison or Jail. 

Marrying an inmate is significantly more complicated. There’s paperwork. There are rules. It’s a confusing process to someone who has never gone through the motions. Often, there is a lot of hand holding on my end because the wait for a date can drag on. 

Typically, couples obtain a marriage license, hold the wedding ceremony, and then have the officiant file the certificate in the appropriate county office within days. 

The married couple will then receive a certified copy of the marriage certificate.
Most states require both spouses, the officiant, and one or two witnesses, to sign the marriage certificate. This is often done just after the ceremony.

Can I marry anyone I want?

Most states require both parties to be 18 years old or older. Otherwise, they must obtain consent from a parent or judge. The most common situation for consent is pregnancy. In these circumstances, the judge often requires proof that the couple can financially support themselves.

People who are already married, even with a lengthy separation, can’t get married until they get divorced.

Both people must have the mental capacity to enter into a contract. If either person can’t or doesn’t understand what it means to be married because of mental illness, drugs or alcohol, or other issues that affect judgment, then that person lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage.

The two people can’t be blood relatives. Sometimes they can’t be closer than third cousins. Many states allow first cousins to marry if they are of an elderly age and no longer able to conceive.

Same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015. Prior to that ruling, same-sex marriage was left mostly to state law.

Where do I obtain a marriage license?

The Officiant DOES NOT provide marriage licenses. You will apply for your marriage license at any county clerks office in the state in which you want to be married. 

Traditionally, couples arrive together to purchase a marriage license. If you are marrying an inmate or military personnel and one party is alone to apply for the license, you will need an Absentee Affidavit in Texas. 

Some states require you to apply in the county clerks office in which you want to be married. Most states require a small fee, and receiving your marriage license usually takes a few days.

Typically, your marriage license will expire 30 days after it is issued. If this happens, don’t panic; you can apply for a new one. 

However, most states imply a waiting period from the date of the issuance of your marriage license until the date of your actual ceremony. The idea behind the waiting period is to allow the parties to change their minds. 

Texas has a three day waiting period. However, a premarital class from Two Together In Texas waives the waiting period while also discounting the license by $60. You can take the course online directly through Two Together In Texas. 

This waiting period can be waived for good cause, such as one of the parties being deployed, or only arriving in town the day before the wedding. 

Can anyone officiate a marriage?

No. The officiant must be qualified by the county. However, civil unions, which are non-religious, are performed by a judge, justice of the peace, or a court clerk. 

Sometimes, people will be given temporary legal authority to perform marriages by a judge or a court clerk. 

Weddings that are religious ceremonies are conducted by a member of the clergy. This is usually a priest, minister, or rabbi. 

Native American tribes can designate certain officials to perform weddings, but usually the tribal chief performs the weddings.

I have to tell you, that this issue of marriage license “mistakes” from other officiants continues. Phone calls from frantic couples who have hired someone outside my staff only later to realize they weren’t legally married continue to shock me. Friends shouldn’t ask friends to Officiate their marriage. They don’t know the legal ramifications of making a mistake and they have no idea that by being ignorant to their role as an Officiant that they can also ruin a wedding. In eight years now, I’ve officiated marriages that should have never required another license and another ceremony because the “other Officiant” failed to file the license or made an error on the license that went unnoticed until the clerk notified the couple. 

Many problems have occurred over the years from other wedding officiants who put the wrong information in the wrong boxes, to ministers not putting the right denomination in the box, to wedding ministers losing or forgetting to file the marriage license. 

I know how to handle a duplicate or Amended license issue. I also supervise witness signatures (when not being disrupted) in order to prevent any witness errors. There cannot be any errors or corrections on a marriage license. 

You need someone aware of what to do to correct the problem. That’s me. I’m up to date on all changes or updates pertaining to marriage laws in any state I Officiate weddings within. 

If you are contacting me because you’ve hired someone else and later realized that you ARE NOT LEGALLY MARRIED, you will need to purchase a new license and have a new ceremony. 

A marriage ceremony must take place in order for me to sign a license. I cannot and will not “simply sign a license.” My signature is an affidavit that a ceremony actually took place. It adds the date, the location and the time. Meaning, I officiated your ceremony at a certain place, on a certain date and at a certain time. There is no “signing” a marriage license without a ceremony however brief the ceremony might be. 

I suggest our elopement package. You cannot keep the original date of your marriage because there are no backdates regarding a marriage license. Please be aware of this. 

If couples choose to opt for an Informal Marriage License, this type of instrument skips the need for a ceremony but, also holds the same weight as a legally binding union. 

If you have more questions regarding Informal versus Formal Marriage, please contact me via email I’m happy to go over the options available to clients.

Many brides and grooms have called me in a panic even though it was not me who messed up the original marriage license. For them, it’s an emergency. For me, it’s a scheduling issue. My calendar is booked months and occasionally up to two years out. Working an “Emergency ceremony” into my schedule isn’t always possible. However, if I cannot find time to Officiate a short notice wedding, I have five other Officiants who can. We have a full staff.  

These requests fall under my Emergency Officiant Fee Structure. Why? Because I don’t have emergencies. My schedule is structured. 

One couple was horrified to find that their marriage license issuer who made a mistake on their wedding license died and prevented them from getting a duplicate license required that would have required the other officiant’s help. They had to find another Officiant and buy another license then have another ceremony in order to legalize their union. 

Circumstances of a lost license require me to authorize a duplicate. If the license has something spilled on it at the wedding, it will require me to sign a duplicate or in California, amend the original license. Each state handles a license issue differently. Knowing how to rectify an unexpected problem is essential for an Officiant who regularly signs marriage licenses. 
I am very proud to say that I have never been placed on probation or suspended and that my relationship with the County Clerk’s Office is a respectful one. 

I visit see Clerks office at least several times a week because I am one of the only officiants who hands each signed marriage licenses to the wonderful folks who work at the Tarrant County Clerk Registrar. 

I don’t trust the mail, and it’s important to me that each signed marriage license and certificate get hand delivered to make sure that they are received by a human, and that you get your marriage certificate copies in a timely manner. 

If the license is from another county an hour or more from Fort Worth, I mail the license via priority mail with tracking to ensure it’s arrived at the Clerks office. 

Hire a professional. I know how to handle a duplicate or Amended license issue. I also supervise witness signatures to prevent errors. 

Texas does not offer Confidential Marriage Licenses. California does. Please be aware that marriages in Texas are public filings.

You need someone aware of what to do to correct the problem. That’s me. I’m up to date on all changes or updates pertaining to marriage laws in any state I Officiate weddings within. 

You cannot keep the original date of your marriage because there are no backdates regarding a marriage license. Please be aware of this. 

I want your event seamless but, people can be unpredictable…