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Can We Have a Friend or Family Member Officiate Our Wedding?

Intimate wedding ceremony for millennial couple with their friend officiating

Tiffany Tullgren

October 17, 2023

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Wedding receptions have become more creative and personalized in the past few decades, and wedding ceremonies have also seen a personal touch. Some personalize their wedding ceremony by incorporating a unique unity ritual or writing their own vows. Others choose to have a close friend or family member get ordained so they can officiate their ceremony.
 
Many couples are forgoing traditional religious norms for wedding ceremonies officiated by a loved one, which can make for a more individualized, intimate, and fun wedding. The Knot, a wedding planning website, says its research indicates that in 2020, 51% of couples had a friend or family member officiate their wedding, up from 37% of couples in 2015.
 
We love the idea of having a friend officiate your wedding; it’s both personal and budget-friendly. While having a friend officiate can make for a lovely ceremony, there are some things everyone needs to know – both for the legal aspect and to ensure you aren’t taking your friend for granted. Here are the steps to take if you’re having a loved one perform your ceremony.
 

Ask in Advance

Give plenty of notice when you ask your friend to perform this honor because getting licensed can take time. It would be best if you asked about the same time you ask people to be members of your wedding party.
 
A friend or family member who already knows you can make your wedding special, but it’s a big decision. Several important details rest on their shoulders, so you’ll want to make sure you trust this person completely.
 
When you ask your chosen person, avoid pushing them into something they are uncomfortable with. It needs to be their choice as well as yours. When choosing the person to perform your ceremony, some good questions to ask yourself include, “Can they speak well in front of a crowd?” and “Do they know both of us well and understand our relationship?”
 
Avoid putting pressure on your friend or family member to say yes. Some people may be unable to take on the responsibility, while others are very uncomfortable with public speaking.
 

Research

Don’t make your friend or family member responsible for doing all of the research! After they accept the responsibility of officiating your wedding, look into how the process works.
 
Then, meet with your future spouse and prospective officiant to find a website or organization everyone is comfortable associating with. Two organizations that offer online ordination include American Marriage Ministries and the Universal Life Church. The online ordination process is typically quick and easy, giving your friend the legal authority to officiate weddings in California.
 

Foot the Bill

Your friend or family member is doing you an honor and a favor, so be sure to pay any bills they may incur while getting ordained. It should inconvenience them as minimally as possible.
 

Contact Your County Clerk

Next, your officiant will need to contact the County Clerk’s office in the county where your ceremony will happen. They should introduce themselves as a minister officiating a wedding and ask what documents will be needed. The personnel at the County Clerk’s office may ask for several things. Please be aware that these requirements vary from county to county.
 
If you’re having your wedding at the Rough & Ready Vineyards, you will be in Nevada County. Our County Clerk-Recorder office is at 950 Maidu Avenue, Suite 210, in Nevada City.
 

Write the Script

Next, determine whether your officiant will write the ceremony, if you and your future spouse will, or if the three of you will work on it together. Writing the script can be a difficult task, so you may wish to look for samples online or use a tool like Universal Life Church’s wedding script generator.
 
Planning your ceremony’s script comes with several responsibilities, such as setting the schedule for the ceremony while presiding over the series of events. The role of an officiant is collaborative, not only with the couple but also with those performing any songs or doing any of the readings.
 
The only legal requirement in California is that your wedding ceremony script includes a “Declaration of Intent.” As long as your officiant asks if you want to marry each other, they can phrase the Declaration of Intent any way you’d like. It is your public declaration that you are knowingly and willingly entering the contract of marriage.
 

Practice

Your officiant can conquer their nerves by rehearsing with loved ones repeatedly, especially if public speaking isn’t one of their strong suits. The rehearsal dinner is a great time to work out any final issues. Go through all the details with your officiant. If this is the first wedding they’re officiating, ensuring everything runs smoothly on the big day will be more challenging.
 
Creating a timeline and running through it with your officiant is definitely a good idea. The officiant will work closely with your DJ for timing and announcements of the wedding ceremony processional.
 
As your officiant practices reciting the ceremony script, he or she will eventually be able to focus more on the tone of their voice, demeanor, posture, and what their hands are doing. In turn, they can better internalize the script because actions accompany the words. You may also encourage your officiant to use props, such as a book or folder, to accompany their hands.
 

Obtain and Sign Your Marriage License

When you receive your marriage license, it should include instructions on how, where, when, and by whom it should be returned. If you are getting married in California, you must apply for your marriage license in California, even if you live out of state.
 
Completing and signing your marriage license is your officiant’s legal duty. Even though this is a serious responsibility, it’s easy. Completing the marriage license involves filling out their portion and signing it with the two of you. On your wedding day, two witnesses and the officiant must sign your marriage license.
 

Return the Marriage License

After completing the marriage license, you must return it to the County Clerk or Recorder. In California, you must return the completed marriage license within ten days of your wedding to comply with state law.
 
Specific instructions on how to return the marriage license should be included with the marriage license when it was issued. If instructions were not included with the marriage license or if you have questions, you can call the issuance office for clarification.
 

Be Thankful

Give your officiant a lovely, thoughtful gift. It should be comparable to what the wedding party receives. Officiating a wedding is no easy task, so showing your appreciation is important.
 
Having a friend or family member to officiate your wedding has been a growing trend in the last decade. It is a great way to incorporate someone close to you and creates a deeply intimate setting. An officiant you just met will only have a few meetings to get to know you and your fiancé. However, a family member or friend knows you individually and as a couple inside and out!

Tiffany Tullgren

Written by Tiffany Tullgren

As Venue Manager for the Rough & Ready Vineyards, Tiffany has a genuine love and passion for planning and organizing weddings. She shares, “Being able to create memories that will last a lifetime for you and your guests is so rewarding. I enjoy making your dream wedding day come true!” Tiffany specializes in personalizing wedding services for each client and handling stressful event situations with grace.

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