Yesterday I received a text requesting Officiant information and availability. After requesting a date, time and location, I was asked to call and “discuss the details.” This isn’t too unusual because I receive 4-15 emails a day and occasionally texts since my phone number is listed on this website. Pouring myself a cup of coffee, I called and found myself somewhat surprised to hear the details of a wedding that was never going to happen based on the obstacles the bride described.
The first problem was that the groom was in an out of state prison and while I’m an approved TDCJ Officiant here in Texas and a few other states, I did need to know which Unit the wedding was going to be at so you can imagine my surprise to hear that “she would prefer not to disclose his location.” Wedding ceremonies require me to know the details.
I have written several blogs regarding Marriage Fraud and am therefore more than a little familiar with shady requests. Not disclosing a location where a wedding is supposed to take place is as shady as it can get (for me anyhow). After telling her that there was no way of marrying a prisoner in Texas or another state unless you travelled to that location after being granted permission to marry by the warden, the next surprise was disclosed. No one can just show up at a Prison and expect a Marriage to take place without following the proper channels.
This bride also had an expired license as well as the groom being in another state. There were so many things that weren’t making sense that I quickly “summed up her situation” with a bit of news she didn’t want to hear by telling her she could never marry under these circumstances and would need to first purchase another license and then tell me where he was. The reason she wanted this wedding was to extradite him back to Texas but she was going about it the wrong way. She apparently believed her last option was an Informal Marriage or more commonly termed, a Common Law Marriage however, this type of wedding also involves the county clerk and “both parties present.”
An expired Marriage License is invalid and she would need to re apply at the county clerks office with an Absentee Affidavit or with her fiancé in order to attain another valid license by going to the clerks office in person. I will not under any circumstances sign an expired Marriage License for anyone for any reason. If you have an expired license, you will need to renew it in order to proceed with a wedding ceremony not only with me officiating but also with anyone on my staff.
Only after going through the correct legal steps necessary are prisoners granted permission to marry. It’s far more complicated than many might assume because after going through an exhaustive process to get permission to marry, they must also located an Approved Officiant. There are very few of us who are approved to officiate a wedding within the prison here in Texas. The chosen (and approved) Officiant must be listed on documents before any warden will approve a Marriage Request.
The caller suggested a Marriage By Proxy which is no longer available within the TDCJ System and is also a very controversial and controlled way of marrying that is now no longer legal in many states.
For those unaware of why this process is reserved for military members, I am including this information regarding law changes in Texas Prisons Marriage By Proxy TDCJ. Texas prisoners can no longer marry by Proxy due to new rules and marriage requirements.
Texas Prison Weddings require both parties present with an approved Officiant on site. It is not legal or valid to attempt to marry a prisoner without following stringent guidelines set forth by the Texas Department Of Criminal Justice.
For folks contacting me unaware of what an I-60 is, I’m including this link Texas Department Of Criminal Justice Marriage Guidelines.
I will not make exceptions to anyone for any reason and follow the laws in any state I’m officiating a wedding within including Prisons. Prison Weddings are structured and the dates approved are based on the location of the unit. Couples have 15 minutes for a ceremony inside each Unit. If the incarcerated spouse is behind a glass wall, they can hear and understand the wedding ceremony whether they can touch their spouse or not.
Traveling to Prison Weddings requires a lot of time for me which is why my fees are based entirely on distance and time. While I had never planned on being an Approved Texas Prison Wedding Officiant, my schedule has recently become 60% Prison Weddings and 40% “Traditional Ceremonies and Event Services.” The primary reason for this “boom to my business” is based on the handful of Approved Officiants and their fees which are wildly different.
I’m an approved pre marital counselor for Two Together In Texas and also offer Crisis Intervention Counseling for current and previous clients as well as a host of other services but the “new business” of Prison Weddings was as unexpected as merging Texas Twins Events and Texas Twins Treasures to create The Pawning Planners and offer bartering as a way to reach more clients.
I may be open minded but I turn away prospects quite frequently who want me to do something illegal. When you sign a Marriage License, you carry the burden of responsibility of signing a legal document and although there are many people who go online to officiate a friend or relatives wedding—there are very few TDCJ Officiants authorized to conduct a wedding within the Texas Prison System for a reason.
The extensive TDCJ background check doesn’t “clear” just anyone and if I’m marrying you, I’ve went over your reasons for making this type of decision first because marrying a prisoner may or may not be for you. Many of these brides are well aware of the decisions they are making and “planning for their future.”
Even an “Informal” or Common Law Marriage requires both parties to be present. I’m including this link Tarrant County Clerk Marriage License Information.
The laws have changed regarding Proxy Marriage and you need to visit your state or county find out if these changes affect you. For more information on Marriage Fraud, visit this link What Is Marriage Fraud?
Marriage Ceremonies traditionally require both parties to be present. Skype Ceremonies or Telephone Ceremonies are illegal in many states. Traditional Weddings require both parties to be present here in Texas. For more information regarding Proxy Marriage please visit this link Understanding A Proxy Marriage.
Traditionally, most states have a Waiting Period of 3 days although Military Personnel do not have to wait. I’ve married a couple on the courthouse steps within minutes of purchasing their license because they were shipping out. Information on Military Waiver can be found here Texas Family Code.
Waiving a Waiting Period for Marriage is reserved for Military Members in Texas.
I file Marriage Licenses weekly and suggest that if you are planning to file your own license after a ceremony that you do so quickly. Marriage Licenses that have been signed are only valid for 30 days after the ceremony. I do not charge a fee to file a license although I’ve heard that a few other Officiants do because I don’t believe in hidden fees.
If you have other questions, comments or concerns regarding TDCJ Weddings, please feel free to contact me using the link located on this site Texas Prison Weddings By Wendy Wortham.