TDCJ Weddings- Questions, Comments, Concerns & County Clerks…

Daily I field calls texts and emails pertaining to inmate marriages. Several of these calls are from different states. Over the weekend, a lady from Georgia contacted me regarding marrying her. 

Georgia is more than a “jog” for me from Texas and due to the distance, I chose to educate her regarding policy and procedure before telling her I didn’t know of anyone conducting prison weddings in Georgia but, if after understanding the process, she needed an Officiant, when we have out of state requests, we can stack an inmate wedding. Let’s review stacking. It’s essential for me due to distances. Many states only allow prison weddings two days a year. In Texas, prison weddings occur two days a month. Because of the scheduling, other states are stacked. 

The last thing I would do is to refer someone to a stranger. A person unaware of how to perform a complicated task such as a prison wedding. If you make a mistake at a prison wedding, you might find yourself there. There are no mistakes at prison weddings and shouldn’t be anywhere else but, everyone assumes they can be an Officiant these days. They can’t. 

Finding a qualified Officiant to conduct your prison ceremony requires far more than the Officiant bothering to show up. 

Today’s blog will revisit the role of an Officiant inside or outside the walls of a penitentiary.

The role of an Officiant is a very serious role. I should know because each and every time someone came to me AFTER HIRING THE WRONG OFFICIANT, I solved their problem of entrusting something as serious as a marriage to someone else unaware of the seriousness. 

There is also some confusion regarding a name change after marriage and a court filing for a name change. These are two completely different things ya all. Marriage requires no court appearance (or filing fee) in order to change your name. 

I will use an example to better describe changing your name NOT pertaining to a marriage or divorce. In July, I’m meeting a client in court to legally change her name. The reason for this is she was a victim of domestic abuse and changing her name is essential to protecting her identity. This is a rare occurrence but, it happens across the U.S. for other reasons too. 

Sometimes adults wish to change their name simply because they don’t like it or for other reasons. Aside from marriage or a divorce, name change petitions are relatively rare. 

The option of “taking on your spouses name” is up to the couple. Meaning, you are not required to change your name due to marriage. The “flip side” to that coin is divorce. After a divorce, you can either keep your previous name or return to your maiden name during the divorce proceeding. 

Again, changing your name is optional and a personal decision left up to the party. If you have children, you are (most likely) going to keep your former married name for convenience but aren’t obligated to do so. Your divorce decree will outline your desire to keep OR change your name. 

The (signed and filed) marriage license gives you an effective “window” to do a name change by simply taking your signed and recorded license to the DMV first then to SS. 

An original (unsigned by an Officiant) marriage license is valid for 90 days. Once signed, the license MUST be filed within 30 days. Failure of a filing in Texas is a crime. 

If you are an Officiant in or outside of a prison in Texas, each state within the U.S. has laws pertaining to officiating a marriage ceremony. 

In Texas, you need to educate yourself to the Family Code, your role and responsibly and the penalties for FAILURE to follow procedure and protocol. From the clerk to the Officiant to the filing, there is far more involved in the process of marriage. After all, divorce is difficult and expensive. 

A divorce is required to dissolve a marriage. The difference is that a divorce often requires attorneys. In most cases, couples rarely have ANY legal advice prior to marrying including the Oath taken to purchase a marriage license. 

Let’s go over the “Oath.” There should be a Miranda for people who have no idea that falsifying a marriage license application is a felony. But, it is. What you are swearing to is that all of the information you have provided is true and correct. If it isn’t, you are falsifying a government document. 

Most of you don’t even recall taking an Oath but, I can assure you that you did. 
“What if my loved one wasn’t present when buying the marriage license?” They didn’t take an Oath. Ahhh, but they did. The Absent Party signed an Oath on the Absentee Affidavit. The person present swore out a verbal Oath. 

Both parties took an Oath. See the attached Absentee Affidavit. The bottom of this form contains an Oath by the Applicant. 

“I’m consistently shocked and subsequently, horrified that people think the role of an Officiant is to show up and sign a license.” It isn’t. It is by far more and if you are unaware of this, do the couple a favor and yourself a favor and don’t volunteer to do something you are incapable of understanding how to do. You, the Officiant, are expected to file the license and fail to do so, you face criminal charges in Texas for failing to do so. Don’t be surprised. The role of an Officiant is a serious one. 

Sec. 2.206. RETURN OF LICENSE; PENALTY. (a) The person who conducts a marriage ceremony shall record on the license the date on which and the county in which the ceremony is performed and the person’s name, subscribe the license, and return the license to the county clerk who issued it not later than the 30th day after the date the ceremony is conducted.
(b) A person who fails to comply with this section commits an offense. An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $500.

Added by Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 7, Sec. 1, eff. April 17, 1997.
For people unaware of the criminal and civil penalties for “not knowing what you are doing,” I will continue to elaborate.

Sec. 2.207. MARRIAGE CONDUCTED AFTER LICENSE EXPIRED; PENALTY. (a) A person who is to conduct a marriage ceremony shall determine whether the license has expired from the county clerk’s endorsement on the license.
(b) A person who conducts a marriage ceremony after the marriage license has expired commits an offense. An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $500.

Added by Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 7, Sec. 1, eff. April 17, 1997.
Sec. 2.208. RECORDING AND DELIVERY OF LICENSE. (a) The county clerk shall record a returned marriage license and mail the license to the address indicated on the application.
(b) On the application form the county clerk shall record:

(1) the date of the marriage ceremony;

(2) the county in which the ceremony was conducted; and

(3) the name of the person who conducted the ceremony.

Added by Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 7, Sec. 1, eff. April 17, 1997.

Let’s review a certified marriage license. It is a legal copy of of the recorded and signed original marriage license. Why do you need one? Generally, for insurance purposes or other legal reasons. These certified copies are relatively inexpensive. You will buy them at the same clerks office that you purchased your marriage license at. 

There also appears to be some confusion regarding Absent Applicants. In general, BOTH parties appear at the clerks office. Because active military members have been using Absentee Applications for years, the new use pertaining to inmate marriages might very well confuse smaller clerks and sub county courthouses. 

Time and time again, one of my clients have been told by a clerk that “Absentee Affidavits are ONLY for service members” “obviously isn’t up to date regarding the use of these Affidavits for inmate marriages.” 

However, rather than attempting to educate Texas county clerks or other state based clerks who are unaware of how to perform their jobs how to, I send my clients to a clerk in a larger city instead. 

Knowing how to solve problems is essential for Prison Wedding Planning. Knowing procedure is critical to an Officiant. 
One of my Crain Unit clients was so confused by the Coryell County Clerks Office that he told me “they keep sending it back.” Alarmed, I asked “sending what back?” 

My client had been mailing in the paperwork rather than appearing in person WITH the paperwork. I was really confused as to why he was mailing the paperwork to purchase the license after I had advised him of the process and the necessity to appear in person. Why was my groom confused? The clerks office. They consistently told him to mail in the paperwork. I can’t stress this enough ya all. Smaller clerk offices are almost always unfamiliar with inmate marriage.

Since it was easier to meet him two hours from my location in order to walk him through buying marriage license myself in Coryell County, I did. Unlike the clerk, I understood the process and held my clients hand through applying for and subsequently buying his marriage license.  

I’ve met several clients over the years at clerks offices to walk them through the process of obtaining their marriage license. 
There CANNOT BE TWO ABSENT APPLICANTS. One person must appear to swear out the Oath and fill out the marriage license application. You must also have a current and valid ID. 

You also cannot purchase an unsigned original marriage license by mail. What you can do is order a filed and recorded marriage license. There is also some confusion regarding this. But, you must fill out a marriage application, show ID and swear an Oath which obviously cannot be done by mail. Hence, you or at least one of you are required to appear in person at the clerks office. 

The original marriage license application and procedure require at least one party present. 

The option to either pick up your (filed and recorded) marriage license at the clerks office or to have it mailed to you is available in certain counties within Texas.  
Tarrant County mails filed licenses back to couples. 

Please double check the address. If you give an incorrect address, a Duplicate License will not look like the original. 
In certain cases, the original sent to the wrong address may eventually show up but, it’s not a given. 

I’ve also had questions regarding Marriage Fraud and Marriage Laws. I’m well versed on both. I’ve also taught Marriage Fraud classes. There isn’t anything I don’t know about my job. I’m well versed and knowledgeable. 

However, for these other folks aka other Officiants  “who decided that they could perform the task of officiating” contacting myself or my staff to “walk them through how to perform a wedding ceremony,” I’ve got a wake up call for you. We are booked two years out. Our clients are our priority. We don’t have the time to teach you how to perform a function that requires far more than a phone call. No one does. 

What couples need to know when hiring an Officiant is that your Officiant is educated pertaining to laws associated with marriage license protocol. 
What does this mean? I will give you a few examples. Over the years, I’ve had hysterical couples call me because “our neighbor performed our marriage and we aren’t actually married.” 
Or, “my uncle went online and didn’t know he had to file the license and we aren’t married.” 
Or, “we went to another country and thought we were married. My husband died and I’m not legally married.” In that situation particularly, the bride lost ALL assets in probate court. Why? She wasn’t married. She also called me because like many others, she had heard I help people. Her story was shocking. It also infuriated me. She was a victim. I was her advocate. I helped locate an attorney and encouraged her to file suit against the Officiant. She subsequently, also won her lawsuit based on emotional and economic damages against the Officiant. 

Let’s keep going here. I could write a book. “The Officiant made a mistake on our marriage license and the clerks office wants them to file an Amended license but they refuse to respond to our phone calls.” 

If you are an Officiant who has no idea how to perform the function of marrying a couple and much less how to carry out the role, STOP. JUST STOP. Don’t call me to solve YOUR problems. You need legal advice. Call an attorney because if you’ve made an error, you are expected to correct it. Not me. I don’t even know you. I’m juggling my own clients with the knowledge and professionalism they deserve. 

Last year, someone called me telling me “I’ve decided to become an Officiant. I need your advice.” Whoa Nelly! YOU have decided to become an Officiant and need MY ADVICE? 

My advice is to educate yourself. After all, you are asking me to create competition that doesn’t exist for myself and my staff at my expense of time that I don’t have to educate someone else. 

Don’t assume that by “going online that conducting a ceremony is easy.” It isn’t. It’s complicated and outlined in Family Law for a reason. The reason is that it’s a legal process. Five minutes online becoming ordained isn’t going to educate you pertaining to a serious role you have chosen to play. You know, your PART in officiating a wedding. 

These people AKA “other Officiants” think that signing a legal document “isn’t a big deal.” However, contacting me to ask “what is an Amended Petition? How do you file a Duplicate Copy of a marriage license? Can you help me?” No. You need to help yourself buddy. You should also stop performing marriage ceremonies. Obviously, you aren’t qualified and much less educated to the process. 

For all the folks thinking they are an educated or even knowledgeable Officiant and assuming that it’s an easy job,” heads up people, if you don’t realize that screwing up a marriage license has legal ramifications, you shouldn’t be doing it. There are also criminal liabilities. That’s right. Marriage Fraud is a felony. 

If you are part of a Marriage Fraud case, no one is going to accept that you didn’t know what you were doing as an adequate defense. 

I’ve seen “other Officiants” sued AND criminally prosecuted over mistakes. It will happen again since people assume that “it’s so easy ANYONE can do it.” 

I’m also well aware of “other Officiants” having their privilege of officiating a wedding rescinded due to more than one error. Held accountable for an error? What do mean Wendy? First off, you have just ruined someone’s wedding by not knowing what you are doing and secondly if you make a mistake, you are civilly and criminally held accountable. 

Ignorance isn’t an adequate defense of the law. 

After all, you WERE the “other Officiant.” I’m the clean up crew to your mistakes. You know the person couples hired to become LEGALLY MARRIED. Over and over again, I’ve been the SECOND OFFICIANT. You know, the person who knew what they were doing! The person the couple came to upon realizing and recognizing that they had initially trusted the WRONG PERSON. 

The number of times I’ve remarried someone who thought they were already married would shock you. 

An Officiant SHOULD BE EDUCATED TO ANY AND ALL PROCEDURES. If you aren’t, it isn’t a job you should be conducting. 
I saw a hilarious comment on TIFA from someone saying “I have a loved one incarcerated. Because of this, I’m familiar with the process of inmate marriages.” 

Really? Visiting an inmate and marrying an Inmate are TWO COMPLETELY different things. Can you assist your client in filing an appeal for revoked visitation? Can you assist your client in remedying a CLM status? Do you know how to walk a client through a prison wedding planning process and answer their concerns and much less address them pertaining to the Administrative Directive with knowledge that they can comprehend? 

This statement regarding visitation and inmate marriage was so outrageous that I found myself wondering why loved ones of inmates didn’t respond to the post by saying “I have an inmate incarcerated and I have no idea of the process of marrying one.”

Visiting an inmate and conducting a legal marriage within a prison is complicated. There are rules and procedures. There are also unexpected hurdles. You need someone educated and well versed on all of the above. Visiting a prison and inmate have nothing to do with marrying an inmate. These are two wholly separate instances. 

What you don’t need is someone “winging it.” There are a lot of them out there. This isn’t a job function you play by ear or accomplish by simply showing up on wedding day. 

“Just because a person goes to the DOCTOR, doesn’t make them a PHYSICIAN.” Experience MATTERS, That’s WHY you HIRE a PROFESSIONAL in the FIRST place. 

I hope this clarifies your questions and for those simply wanting to change their name without marriage marriage being a factor, I’m including this information- When you file your name change petition, you’ll have to pay a filing fee, which varies depending upon what county you are in. Generally the cost to change your namein Texas ranges from $250 to $350. Once you’ve filed your name change petition, a date for the court hearing will be set.