Self-Uniting Marriage Licenses & the time of Coronavirus

Getting your marriage license has always been a bit of a scheduling adventure, with baked in “holding” patterns to make sure you’re not making spur of the moment decisions and expirations to make sure you’re not thinking about it too long. On top of the usual process of acquiring a marriage license, now there is the added pressure of courthouse closings, possible postponements, and a surprising inability to hang out with your favorite legal officiant. Getting legally married isn’t quite as much of an impossibility as having a full 200 person wedding is at the moment, so we wanted to key you in one of our favorite things to know about marriage licenses in the era of Coronavirus (& beyond)- the existence of the self-uniting marriage license.

couple on the way to philadelphia city hall to sign a self-uniting marriage license, civil marriage ceremony, city hall wedding

What is a Self-Uniting Marriage License

Philadelphia is know for being a “Quaker” city and it’s thanks to the Quakers that we have some amazing things. The symbolic American flag is said to have been created by Quaker, Betsy Ross. Some of the first chocolate bars were invented by quakers. And because of their lack of clergy and history as a presence in Philadelphia and the surrounding regions, Pennsylvanians have the chance to file for self-uniting marriage licenses.

Couples may choose to self-unite for any number of reasons: To allow an unordained friend or family member to officiate their wedding, to have a self-uniting, Quaker-style wedding ceremony, or to get married on paper outside of the confines of a formal wedding were all some of the more popular reasons for choosing a self-uniting marriage license.

A self-uniting marriage license is a legal document that allows a couple to be married in the absence of an officiant. They offer a level of flexibility that a traditional marriage license lacks – allowing a friend to officiate your wedding day without asking them to take on the responsibility of being ordained online or allowing you to lead your own wedding celebration. Although these licenses require two adult witnesses to sign, the witnesses can be anyone you choose! You could have a socially distant cocktail on your front stoop while a neighbor signs as your witnesses or pass the license through the window of your family’s home to have your parents sign as witness.

Why Should Couples Consider Self-Uniting

Ring exchange during self-uniting marriage license ceremony officiated by a friend of the couple

Now, with the limitations on weddings/gatherings of people due to the stay-at-home orders in place, self-uniting marriage licenses are a great option for a couple who may want to be married on their originally planned wedding date for any number of reasons, while still choosing to celebrate their wedding at a postponed date. There are a number of other reasons why someone could choose a self-uniting marriage license, even when Covid-19 isn’t affecting their plans.

While Ashley and her husband, Mike, were planning their 2010 wedding, Mike made the decision to leave his full-time corporate job behind to return to college and begin medical school, which would leave him without medical insurance. Two months before their planned October wedding, Ashley & Mike took Ashley’s sister and brother-in-law out to their favorite restaurant and asked them to witness them signing their self-uniting marriage license. Their early marriage allowed Mike to be added to Ashley’s insurance policy (a requirement for many medical students) and also gave them the chance to have close family members as their witnesses. As a bonus, Ashley was able to invite one of her professors who became a close friend had an impact on her to be their officiant, without worrying about needing to be ordained.

How do I get a Self-Uniting Marriage License?

You’ll want to apply for a marriage license at the county courthouse office a minimum of three days prior to you wedding date, although two to three weeks is recommended. Many counties now allow you to complete the application process online, although as of right now, Pennsylvania does require both partners to appear in person together with their photo id to complete the process.

You’ll want to request the application for a self-uniting marriage license from the beginning, because it requires a different form than a traditional marriage license. Costs of a marriage license varies by county, but most will range anywhere from $50-100 dollars. Although the cost of a self-uniting license can be about $10 more than a traditional marriage license in some states, the convenience and ease of filing can be well worth the expense!

family member signing as witness on a couple's self-uniting marriage license

For more detailed directions on obtaining any marriage license and to find the link to your county’s website/process, simply google “apply for a marriage license” and your county’s name. Each county’s website will explicitly explain the process, include links to online applications where available, and let you know which office to visit when you come in to file.

Any Other Suggestions About Applying for Our Marriage License?

Keep an eye on the headlines, as with everything else in life, things are changing rapidly in the wedding industry as we navigate these changing times. Recently, Maryland has begun to allow applications via mail, email, and an in-person dropbox system to avoid bringing people into closed courthouses and New Jersey has allowed weddings to be officiated over video software.

Pennsylvania’s self-uniting marriage licenses actually put our couples ahead of the challenges, by allowing for flexibility in legalizing marriages. Will you consider a self-united marriage in the time of Coronavirus? Let us know in the comments!

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