Is Your Marriage Legal in North Carolina

Photos by Glynnis Christensen Photography

If you live in North Carolina, it is important to hire a professional officiant. The North Carolina law reads: “Any ordained minister of any religious denomination, minister authorized by a church, Federally or State recognized, Indian Nation or Tribe, Magistrate or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State.”

This differs from state to state so it is best to check the laws of the State where you will be getting married.

There have been several cases brought to court as to whether the couple was legally married when they were married by a Universal Life Church minister. In one case, the judge said, “A ceremony solemnized by a Roman Catholic layman in the mail-order business who bought for $10.00 a mail-order certificate giving him ‘credentials of minister’ in the Universal Life Church, Inc.—whatever that is—is not a ceremony of marriage to be recognized for purposes of a bigamy prosecution in the State of North Carolina.” The cases were grandfathered in but left any future cases open to interpretation.

The professional officiant knows how to complete the marriage license properly and return it to the Register of Deeds within the allotted time.

If you still want a family friend to marry you, I would suggest having a legal signing by an ordained minister or getting married at the courthouse beforehand.

What is required for the wedding ceremony to be legal?

For your marriage to be legal you need a declaration of intent – the wedding vows,  and the pronouncement that the couple is married,  as well as the completion of the marriage certificate with signatures of the minister and two witnesses.

Where and when do I obtain a marriage license?

All of North Carolina’s 100 Register of Deeds offices issue marriage licenses that can be used anywhere in the state. The license can be used immediately upon issuance and is good for 60 days. Both completed original licenses must be returned to the county where it was issued.  You must go in person to pick up your license, the cost is $60. Here is the link to apply for  a marriage license in Wake County:

How many witnesses do I need?

Two witnesses are required for a marriage to be legal in NC. The minister does not count as one of the witnesses. It can be anyone a the wedding. Many times it is the Maid of Honor and the Best Man, the parents of the couple, or family relatives of the couple such as brothers, sisters, cousins, etc. The witnesses must be at least 18 years old.

Who files the marriage certificate after all the signatures are obtained?

Usually, the minister will mail the copies to the Register of Deeds after the certificate is signed by the minister and two witnesses. If you are leaving on a trip very soon or need the marriage license for insurance, etc., you can take it to the Register of Deeds yourself and obtain a certified copy immediately.

How do I obtain a certified copy of my marriage license?

You may obtain a certified copy of your marriage license after it has been filed with the Register of Deeds. This can be obtained online in Wake County at, or by US mail: send a completed request form, a $10 check or money order, and a photocopy of a government-issued ID.

 How do I change my name?

You must obtain a name change online from the Social Security office beginning 3-17-20. Here is a link to instructions: You will need to complete form SSA-5:  You may want to send a copy of your driver’s license or birth certificate as an additional identifying document but not necessary since the marriage certificate has a lot of information on it.  Mail the completed SS-5, an original Certificate of Marriage (photocopy not acceptable), and any other ID you are submitting to the US Social Security Administration,   4701 Old Wake Forest Road, Raleigh NC 27609. It may take anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks to get your new card. 

Then present a certified copy of the Marriage License to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) with your new SS card to change your name on the marriage license

As you can see, the benefits of hiring a professional wedding officiant are numerous. The ceremony is the most important part of your wedding. By hiring a professional, you are honoring the lifelong commitment you are making to each other in front of your family and friends. They will truly understand the depth of your love for each other on this monumental event.

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