Legal Status of Online Ordinations in NC

If you get married by a minister of the Universal Life Church, American Marriage Ministries, or any similar organization that grants “instant ordinations” online, then your marriage could be deemed void in a court of law.

The purpose of this page is to inform you of an issue under current North Carolina law regarding the requirements for a valid marriage, and the steps that Charlotte Marriages (Love and Wisdom Inc.) has taken to protect the validity of your marriage. We take our role and responsibility to you seriously, and we feel it’s important for each of our clients to understand the legal requirements of creating a marital union.

Regardless of where you reside, if your marriage ceremony takes place within the State of North Carolina, then NC State Law controls and regulates the institution of marriage, and sets out several requirements for your marriage to be valid:

Chapter 51-1 of NC Law: A valid and sufficient marriage is created by the consent of any two persons who may lawfully marry, presently to take each other as spouses, freely, seriously and plainly expressed by each in the presence of the other, either:

(1) In the presence of an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate; and with the consequent declaration by the minister or magistrate that the persons are married; or

(2) In accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination, or a federally or State recognized Indian Nation or Tribe.

Based on how the law is written, it would seem that marriages performed by Universal Life Church ministers would be valid, and that is exactly what the Universal Life Church will tell you if you ask them. However, case law will tell you the opposite, and case law is what matters. There is one particular case that was decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1980, State v. Lynch, 301 N.C. 479, in which the court held that a marriage presided over by an officiant ordained by the Universal Life Church was not properly validated because the Universal Life Church has no real requirements for ordination other than the submission of one’s name, and it adheres to no particular doctrine such that the court would identify it as a religious denomination.

State v. Lynch has not been overturned, and as recently as October 2018,  it has been used as precedent in a court of law to deem Universal Life Church ministers unqualified to officiate marriage ceremonies in North Carolina. Hence, all marriages performed by ULC ministers in NC are considered to be “voidable,” and this could be extended to American Marriage Ministries or similar organizations who have the same lack of requirements and doctrine.

Just to be clear, if you were married by a minister of the Universal Life Church or similar organization, your marriage is “voidable” but not “void,” which in legal terms means that it is valid until challenged in a court of law. NC marriage laws are currently in great need of clarity and revision, and certain government officials are working towards that end. We always keep a close watch on these developments and we always adhere to the law.

Charlotte Marriages (Love and Wisdom Inc.) has taken affirmative steps to protect our clients and ensure the validity of the marriages over which we preside. All of our officiants have been ordained by organizations that require specific qualifications and adherence to a particular doctrine, which satisfies the requirements of NC written law and case law. Our officiants must go through a process of ordination and are not permitted to rely solely on ordination by the Universal Life Church or any other similar organization that grants instant ordination with no requirements or qualifications. We require all of our officiants to keep up-to-date valid ordination certificates on file in case this were ever to come into question. Thank you for entrusting us with this very important time in your lives, you can rest assured that we are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for you. Now, go on and have a stellar wedding day!