when is one officially married?

I was watching a film last night (OK it was rugrats in paris, but my children forced me) and there was a marriage service that was stopped at the last second (in true film fashion). I was wondering when the last moment that one could get cold feet without having to go through a divorce. Was it after when the mimister says “I now pronounce you…” or when one signs sthe registry? Could one sign the registry, and then scribble it out saying “whoops big mistake”? Is there a cooling off period?

the marriage is official when the minister (or justice of the peace, probate judge, etc.) signs the licence and files it with the state. everything else is just fluff. nice fluff, but fluff nonetheless.

So is it when he signs the licence, or when it is received by the state. This could be important one day for some lawyer!

Of course, if you can get it annulled, then it never really happened.

If the film was set in Paris, we need to know a little bit about French marriage ceremonies.

In France the only legaly binding marriage is when the couple sign the ‘Acte de Marriage’ in front of a ‘notaire’. This is often done in the ‘marie’, and as a rule it happens just before the religious blessing.
The religious ceremony that you might have seen in the church was not a wedding in any legal sense, it was just a blessing where the congregation celebrate that the bride and groom have just signed a contract. This ceremony looks just like a religious wedding, with exchange of rings etc, but it cannot take place unless the couple has already signed the proper forms.

Hmm, I guess chuckie’s dad was actually married then in the movie. That would have ruined the plot.

Depends on the law of the place where the marriage is celebrated.

In some contries registration is required to “complete” the marriage ceremony and, if you don’t register, you’re not married. In other countries the ceremony itself is effective. If you fail to register you’ve committed the offence of failing to register a marriage, but you’re still married.

In France a religious ceremony is of no validity. It is an offence to have a religious ceremony without already having had a valid civil marriage. If you go ahead and have a religious ceremony you’ve committed an offence, but you’re still not married.

I think the question as phrased is too vague. You have to specify the context. If it was a religious wedding, for example, it is possible for there to be a specific point in time when they are married in the eyes of the religion but not in the eyes of the government, or married in the eyes of the government but not in the eyes of the religion.

In traditional Judaism, for example, they are married at the moment when the groom places the ring on the bride’s finger. Until that point, if they change their mind, no problem from the perspective of Judaism. But after that point, they will need to go through the procedures of a Jewish divorce, whether they have filed papers with the government or not.

I am curious what would happen in Popup’s scenario to a Roman Catholic couple. Suppose they have already signed the ‘Acte de Marriage’ in front of a ‘notaire’. And then, before ‘the religious blessing’, they change their mind. According to Popup’s description, the laws of France consider them already married, so they go through whatever divorce proceedings France requires.

Now, the big question is: In the eyes of Roman Catholicism, was the wedding considered legitimate, even though they backed out before ‘the religious blessing’? If so, then the Church would consider them as still married unless they can manage an anullment. (Which, under the circumstances, would be pretty easy, I suppose, but would still need to be done.) Or would the Church consider them as never having gotten married in the first place, since they backed out prior to ‘the religious blessing’?

When the husband first hear’s his significant other say, “…could you please put your dirty socks in the hamper? Do you think I’m the maid? Why don’t you…”


Doesn’t really go to the OP, but I think it’s funny. In Virginia, if at least one “spouse” believes they’re married, even if she’s wrong (such as if her “husband” got a fake preacher to scam her into his pants), and they have sex, the marriage becomes valid.


The question has relevance to me because at this time my fiance is suggesting a civil ceremony to be followed at some rather later time by a religious one.

So in the US, one is married when:

  1. One applies for, pays for, completes, files (and in some states completes the waiting period prescribed) the wedding certificate?
  2. When one has said certificate signed, etc., by an officiating person such as the Justice of the Peace, preacher, or notary?

Note: Here in MD, there’s a 3-day waiting period. I beleive a certificate is good for 60 days, but I am not sure what that means. I gather somehow the loop doesn’t close for 60 days before one has to pay ythe fee again.

My wife and I both forgot our wedding anniversary this year. She remembered about three days later and we both had a big laugh over the fact. That is when you are truly married. :wink:

Would that be the same as The Graduate?

If I remember my Catholic theology classes correctly, it’s the consumation (i.e., sex) that is the sacrament of matrimony. All the other stuff is secondary. So, if a couple goes in front of a priest, says “I do”, exchanges rings, and all that, but then gets cold feet before they hop in the sack, they’re not married. They probably will have to go through the paperwork for an annulment, though.

This situation might be more complicated if they had sex before the civil ceremony, but I don’t remember enough theology to answer that. I do know that if a couple goes through anything which they believe is a valid marriage ceremony, and then has sex, they’re presumed to be married in the eyes of the Church.

In Texas, a lot of the ceremonial stuff is secondary. Suppose you go through a marriage ceremony, but a month later you find out that the person performing the ceremony was just some grifter posing as a priest. As long as you honestly believed at the time that he was authorized to perform the marriage, the marriage is still valid.

I believe (although I’d have to look it up) that the failure of the official to sign and return the license also doesn’t invalidate the marriage, but the official is subject to a fine.

Seems like in general, if you believe you’re married, and you live like you’re married, then you’re married, even if you can’t pinpoint the second it happened.

Having just gotten married, I can answer these.

Obtaining the license merely is applying for permission from the state to be married. Most states have specific statutory requirements in order to be married (e.g. any previous marriages dissolved; the bride and groom aren’t relatives; they’re both of legal age and/or have their parents’ consent, etc.), and that’s what’s on the application. Three days later (or whenever; some states don’t have a waiting period), you get your pretty piece of paper and can get married. Why the wait, I dunno.

So, the answer is #2, more or less. The license has to be signed by the officiant, and in some states (Mississippi being one), there are requirements as to who can officiate. An ordained minister can do it, but a student minister can’t, for example.

Hope this helps.


Not hardly. My husband and I had a traditional wedding in a Presbyterian church, 15 years of marriage and a 2-year-old child under our belts and we still weren’t considered married by the Catholic church when he wanted to rejoin.

The sacrament is performed by the couple, not the priest, but it isn’t valid unless witnessed by a Catholic priest and a member in good standing of the Church…

There’s a lot of interesting stuff being posted here, but I don’t think anyone has really answered the OP’s question yet. I assumed (especially based on the scm1001’s followup post) that he/she was asking specifically about the civil aspect.

As far as the local government is concerned, a given couple is either married or not. Because of this, it would seem that there must be some instant at which a couple makes the transition (in the eyes of the state) from being single to married. After this moment, “cold feet” cannot be dealt with simply by walking away and forgetting the whole thing. Divorce, or some other variety of “un-doing” would have to take place.

I don’t think the OP was asking about cases where something fraudulent was going on, like an invalid officiant. In a simple, straight-up, nothing-hiding-in-the-closet marriage, what’s the moment of no return?

Is this moment (as I sort of suspect) when bride, groom and officiant have all signed the license? Or (as I kind of doubt), can the whole shebang be legally “swept under the rug” until the minister actually files the paperwork with the state (or county - whatever’s appropriate) government?

As a practical matter, I guess it’s probably possible to talk to the minister right after the ceremony and have him burn the form without sending it in. My guess would be that this violates some statute, and that the state might even still consider the couple married if it found out about something like this.

But, IANAL, so I’m just spouting off hoping my misconceptions will be pointed out and corrected.

I can see this being very relevent, also, if one of the partners were to die on the day of the wedding (or even during the ceremony). Whether or not the couple was legally married at the moment of death (I’d think) would be a pretty important question - and one that would invite all sorts of legal hair-splitting.

And still calling yourself Miz Robyn, tut!, shame! :wink:


Who else here is thinking of The Princess Bride?

In the U.S., when someone is married is a matter of state law. In New York, when a marrige is official is governed by Domestic Relations Law Section 12

I imagine most other U.S. states have similar laws (if you’re interested in a particular state I may be able to look it up). I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what the law is in France.