Section 5 - Performing Marriages
A. Lawful Definition of Marriage
By definition of law, marriage is a civil contract. A marriage must be entered into with great solemnity and not as a jest or spontaneous gesture. It is imperative that the couple and the notary comply with state requirements so that the marriage may not be invalidated later.
B. Authority to Perform Marriages.
Notaries in Florida are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. This is one of the fun things you can do, but you should also know that, if you are uncomfortable with performing a marriage ceremony, you don't have to do it. Florida is one of only three United States that allow notaries to solemnize marriages: South Carolina and Maine are the other two. Remember that you have to stay in your jurisdiction. You cannot go to South Carolina or Maine to perform marriages, and notaries in those states cannot perform marriages in Florida.
C. Who is Eligible for Marriage?
Before you can perform a marriage ceremony for a couple, you must first make sure they are eligible to be married. Review the packet of information that comes with the marriage license the couple obtained from the clerk's office to determine the eligibility of the couple. You must also verify that the couple has a valid marriage license by checking the issue date and the date the license may expire.
D. The Marriage Process.
The process to solemnize a marriage is simple but very important. Florida statutes enable a commissioned notary to perform marriage ceremonies anywhere within the state. There are no specific guidelines established for notaries who perform marriages. However, the following suggestions are made in an effort to enable the notary to perform marriage ceremonies in a professional and appropriate manner. Check with your county for any specific rules or procedures.
Determine Consent. Prior to performing the marriage ceremony you should determine consent between the two parties to be married. Both persons, with no evidence of duress or force must give consent freely and voluntarily. This can be determined simply on the observation, good sense and judgment of the notary. The notary should be able to assess that the parties are of sound mind and are not under the influence of any drug or alcohol. Both parties should express their will to be married at the marriage ceremony. One man filed a complaint against a notary for performing his marriage ceremony when he claimed that he was too drunk to consent to the marriage. In her defense, the notary made several valid points. First, the man had voluntarily signed and obtained a Florida marriage license. Second, he voluntarily came to the wedding. Third, he was not too drunk to say, "I do," when asked, "Do you take this woman to be your wife? " Fourth, he had lived with the woman for two years in a state of marriage after he took the vows and only filed the complaint after he decided to divorce his wife. In essence, the man was looking for an easy way to avoid paying a divorce attorney. The complaint against the notary was dismissed with no action.
Check the Marriage License. Performing a marriage ceremony without a marriage license is prohibited by law. The bride and groom should apply for their own marriage license at the county clerk's office.
You should take possession of the license before you perform the marriage ceremony. Make sure that the bride and groom signed the document. They would have done that in front of the county clerk employee. If considerable time has elapsed since the license was applied for and issued, it is recommended that the notary check carefully for an expiration date. If the license date has expired or if any changes need to be made to the license information, the couple must return to the issuing office before continuing with the wedding procedure.
Do not perform a marriage ceremony without first getting the marriage license from the couple. Florida law says that you may not solemnize a marriage before the marriage license is issued. Performing a marriage without first obtaining the license from the couple to be wed can result in a fine or imprisonment. Be on your guard! Have the marriage license in your hand before the ceremony.
Require the Presence of the Bride and Groom. Both parties should be present for the marriage ceremony. Furthermore, a person who is not the bride or groom cannot stand in for one of the parties. The bride and groom, as identified on the marriage license, should both be physically present with the notary at the time of the ceremony.
Identify the Bride and Groom. The next crucial step is to identify the bride and groom if you do not personally know them. There is nothing in the law that requires identification for a marriage ceremony, but it is recommended that you verify identity, including the age of both the bride and groom. Would you want to take a chance on marrying two people who were not the same people listed on the marriage license?
Perform the Ceremony. Now that you have verified the marriage license, checked identification, judged mental capacity and consent, you are ready to perform the ceremony. What kind of ceremony should you use? Normally, the bride and groom choose the ceremony according to their personal preferences. It can be a religious ceremony or a simple, civil ceremony. The bride and groom can even make up their own vows. The ceremony can be personalized as long as there is a verbal commitment made by each party to each other in your presence.
In Florida marriage is a legally binding contract. If a couple wants to end their marriage, they have to go to court to break the contract, otherwise known as divorce.
Complete the Certificate of Marriage. After the ceremony, you will complete the paperwork. We recommend that you prepare your portion of all the certificates, both official and keepsake, prior to the ceremony (except for signatures, of course!) so that time will not need to be devoted to these tasks after the wedding ceremony.
First, it is recommended that you enter all the information about the marriage ceremony in your journal and in your journal, obtain the signatures of the bride, groom, and the two witnesses (if any) who will sign the official Certificate of Marriage. The bride and groom must sign the official Certificate of Marriage on the Marriage License and the notary must witness the signing by both the bride and groom. Next, make sure you put the date of the ceremony on the certificate and also the city/county where the ceremony was performed. Then sign as the officiate, write the title "Notary Public," and below your signature, print your name and your mailing address legibly. You are notarizing the signatures of the bride and groom on the license and you are also certifying that you joined this couple in marriage on a particular date, at a particular location.
The license should have original signatures of the notary, bride, and groom. You may wish to give the bride and groom a decorative marriage certificate impressed with your embosser or seal, and a gold foil seal. Although this extra certificate is not official, it is a beautiful keepsake of the special event.
Witnesses are not actually required by law, but are certainly recommended and it is customary for witnesses to sign the keepsake marriage certificate if you provide one. They are often available from an office supply store.
F. Return the License.
Do note give the license to the bride and groom. You must return the license to the county clerk's office within 10 days by mail or be hand-delivered. The clerk's office will mail a "certified copy" to the bride/groom.
G. Performing Marriages for Family Members.
One of the most frequent questions about solemnizing marriage is, "Can I perform a marriage ceremony for a member of my family? " The answer is, "Yes. " There are no laws in effect in Florida that prohibit a notary from performing a marriage ceremony for family members. The law against notarizing the signature of certain family members is not applicable to performing marriage ceremonies. You are joining the couple in marriage, not administering an oath or taking an acknowledgment. You may perform a marriage ceremony for any member of your family, but remember that the couple must have a valid Florida marriage license and the marriage ceremony must take place in Florida.
H. Fees for Performing Marriages.
In Florida, a $20 fee has been established by law. However, some notaries provide additional services, in addition to performing the ceremony that can be very lucrative. For a fee, some notaries provide or arrange wedding extras such as flowers, music, photography, video or audio recordings, and cakes. Some notaries even arrange the honeymoon trip!
The fees charged for these additional services or any others related to the wedding should be discussed in advance, itemized on an invoice, and clearly separated from notary fees, and given to the couple in advance of the service.
I. Advertising Marriage Services.
While there are no specific laws in Florida pertaining to advertising marriage services, to avoid any legal implications or confusion, it is prudent to be very cautious when wording your advertising.
Notaries may use a variety of advertising methods. Newspaper, Yellow Pages, business cards, announcement on community bulletin boards and word-of-mouth are usually the most effective means of letting people know of your services.
J. Keeping Records of the Marriage Ceremony
Although it is not required in Florida, Huckleberry Associates, Inc., recommends that every notary document all notarial acts, including weddings, in a bound journal. The notary should record the identification of the bride and groom, the date, time, and place the marriage occurred, the license number, the fee charged, and the signatures of the bride, groom and any witnesses. The addresses and telephone numbers of all parties are also recommended.