Delaware Wedding Laws
Delaware is a small but mighty state. The second smallest state in the country, Delaware is often considered a jewel because of its location along the Eastern Seaboard. Whether you are a couple wishing to wed there or a person planning to officiate, this guide will provide you with the legal framework and step-by-step guidance you need to ensure the legal standing of the wedding ceremony.
How to Become a Wedding Officiant in Delaware
In order to legally officiate a wedding ceremony in Delaware, the person must be at least 18 years of age; there are no rules with regard to gender or religion. The minister must register with the state before the ceremony, and by so doing, becomes part of a statewide public database. If he or she legally resides in Delaware, then registration must be in his or her own county of residence; if he or she is not a Delaware resident, then registration must be in the same county as the wedding ceremony. After completing the needed registration, the officiant will receive a license that includes a ministerial ID number. Since this number must be entered on the marriage license, failure to register can have serious implications for the marrying couple.
The minister will be asked for proof of ordination, which the Universal Life Church always provides. It's also best to check with the relevant county office to make sure there are no additional county requirements to be met. Because Delaware requires more documentation than many other states, ministers officiating there often find that the Classic Wedding Package best meets their needs.
Show Legal Excerpt+
Del. Code tit. 13 § 106 Individuals authorized to solemnize marriages; requirements to solemnize marriage; penalty.
(a) (1) For purposes of this subsection, “chief executive officer” means the mayor of an incorporated municipality. If an incorporated municipality does not have a mayor, then “chief executive officer” means the president of the legislative body of the incorporated municipality. If an incorporated municipality does not have a mayor or a president of the legislative body, then “chief executive officer” means the presiding officer of the legislative body of the incorporated municipality.
(2) The following individuals over 18 years of age may solemnize a marriage between individuals who may lawfully enter into the matrimonial relation:
a. A clergyperson or minister of any religion who resides in the State, provided he or she is registered with the Clerk of the Peace in the county where he or she resides.
b. A clergyperson or minister of any religion who does not reside in the State, provided he or she is registered with the Clerk of the Peace in the county where the marriage ceremony is to be performed.
c. A current or former judge of this State’s Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court, Court of Chancery, Court of Common Pleas, or Justice of the Peace Court.
d. A current or former federal judge or magistrate with jurisdiction over this State.
e. A current or former Clerk of the Peace of a county of this State, within the county in which the Clerk holds or held that office.
f. The chief executive officer of an incorporated municipality of this State, within the corporate limits of that municipality.
(b) The Clerk of the Peace in each county shall maintain an online registry through which clergypersons or ministers of any religion must register.
(1) Upon registering, registrants shall receive a registration card online bearing the registrant’s personal registration number. That registration number must be entered on the certificate of marriage of each marriage ceremony performed by the registrant.
(2) Once registered with a Clerk of the Peace in any county, a registrant’s name will be added to a statewide registry accessible to the public online.
(3) Once registered with a Clerk of the Peace in any county, a registrant will be authorized to solemnize marriages statewide.
Getting Married in Delaware
There are very few rules regarding the specifics of the wedding ceremony, and couples are free to customize the proceedings in any way they see fit. The law only requires that both parties verbally consent to the marriage. While many couples choose to say "I Do" as is traditionally done, the individuals being married are free to express their consent in a unique way if they prefer. Following the consent vows (in whatever form they may take), the officiant must pronounce the couple as married before ending the ceremony.
While the wedding service is quite flexible, there are laws regarding attendance that need to be followed. In addition to the officiating minister and the marrying couple, two witnesses must also attend the event in person. Both witnesses must be at least 18 years old and must sign the necessary paperwork at the end of the ceremony.
Show Legal Excerpt+
Del. Code tit. § 106 Individuals authorized to solemnize marriages; requirements to solemnize marriage; penalty.
(a) (4) Marriages shall be solemnized in the presence of at least 2 reputable witnesses who are at least 18 years of age and who shall sign the certificate of marriage as prescribed by this chapter. Marriages may be solemnized or contracted according to the forms and usages of any religious society or in an entirely secular manner. No marriage shall be solemnized or contracted without the production of a license issued pursuant to this chapter.
How to Get a Delaware Marriage License
In order to obtain a marriage license, the couple must apply at the Clerk of the Peace office. Both parties must appear in person and present a government issued ID to prove their identity as well as their age. If either person has been married in the past, regardless of when, a divorce decree must usually be presented. In any event, the couple will not be subject to a blood test.
The marriage license fee is different for residents and nonresidents. If you don't reside in Delaware, you must pay $120, but if Delaware is your legal residence, the fee is only $70. The license is valid statewide, so you are free to marry in any county of Delaware you choose.
Show Legal Excerpt+
Del. Code tit. 13 § 101 Void and voidable marriages.
(b) A marriage is prohibited, and is void from the time its nullity is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction at the instance of the innocent party, if either party thereto is:
(6) Divorced, unless a certified copy of the divorce decree (last decree if such person has been divorced more than once) or a certificate of such divorce from the clerk of the court granting the divorce is inspected by the clerk of the peace to whom such person makes application for a marriage license, and unless such person may in other respects lawfully marry; and, if such decree or certificate cannot be obtained, the Resident Judge of the county where such license is desired or the person designated by the Resident Judge to grant such certificates as may be accepted under this paragraph may grant a certificate of the facts as stated by the applicant and the certificate may, for the purposes of this chapter, be accepted in lieu of a certified copy of a divorce decree;
Del. Code tit. 13 § 120 Marriage license application; appearance of parties; exception.
Before any marriage license shall be issued by the issuing officer, the parties desiring to marry shall together appear before such officer to be examined upon oath or affirmation in the presence and hearing of each other according to the form prescribed in § 122 of this title to which the parties applying for the license shall subscribe their names. The license shall be issued only after it has been made to appear that no legal impediment to the proposed marriage exists. In the case of critical illness of 1 of the parties desiring to marry, the physician attending such party may appear for the ill party and make an application for a marriage license for such party, if such physician first makes an affidavit and delivers it to the issuing officer stating that in the opinion of said physician the party for whom said physician is acting is at the point of death and that this person may lawfully marry. The application for the marriage license shall be altered in such case to show that said physician acted as proxy and the affidavit of the physician shall be filed with the application.
Applying For a Marriage License in Delaware
When applying for a marriage license, it is best to request a religious ceremony license rather than a civil ceremony license if given the choice. A civil ceremony license is only intended to be used if a secular officiant is performing the ceremony. This would include civil servants such as judges and government notaries. Conversely, a religious ceremony license is appropriate for individuals ordained by a church, including the Universal Life Church. However, even though the ceremony is classified as religious, it does not need to contain any religious customs, elements, or rituals.
Once a Delaware marriage license has been issued, it becomes valid in 24 hours and does not expire for 30 days. After the wedding ceremony is complete, the minister will have only four days to bring the signed license back to the Clerk of the Peace office for filing.
Show Legal Excerpt+
Del. Code tit. 13 § 107 Marriage licenses; obtaining and delivery.
(a) Persons intending to be married within this State shall obtain a marriage license at least 24 hours prior to the time of the ceremony.
(b) The license must be delivered to the person who is to officiate before the marriage can be lawfully performed. If the marriage is to be performed by or before any religious society, the license shall be delivered to the religious society or any officer thereof who is duly qualified according to § 106 of this title.
(c) A marriage license issued pursuant to this chapter shall entitle the parties thereto, subject to the other provisions of this chapter, to marry within 30 days from the date of its issuance. In the event the marriage ceremony is not performed within 30 days, said license shall be void and the parties must reapply to the appropriate issuing officer for another license to marry. No refund or rebate shall be given for the unused license, nor shall said license be reinstated or postdated. The procedure to secure another license shall be the same as that provided for the initial application.
(d) The Clerk of the Peace in each county for good cause being shown may:
(1) Shorten the time periods specified in subsection (a) of this section; or
(2) Lengthen the time period specified in subsection (c) of this section not to exceed 180 days.
Del. Code tit. 13 § 117 Forms to be sent to clerk of the peace; duties of the clerk.
(a) The person performing the marriage shall, within 4 days after the ceremony, return to the issuing clerk of the peace such forms and papers as the Department of Health and Social Services may prescribe.
Delaware Marriage Requirements
Unlike most other states, Delaware's minimum age for marrying is firm. You are only allowed to marry if you are at least 18 years old, and no exceptions are ever allowed. Residency, however, is not required, so couples are welcome from out of state or even from another country. This holds true for same-sex couples since Delaware recognizes marriage equality.
Show Legal Excerpt+
Del. Code tit. 13 § 101 Void and voidable marriages.
(a) A marriage is prohibited and void between a person and his or her ancestor, descendant, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew or first cousin.
Del. Code tit. 13 § 123 Marriage of minors; consent forms.
(a) No individual under the age of 18 shall be granted a marriage license.
Finalizing the Union
The wedding ceremony will hopefully be a joyful and memorable event that marks the start of a wonderful married journey for the couple. While the couple focuses on the joy of their special day, the minister should make sure that the legal requirements following the ceremony are fulfilled. First, the minister should fill out the officiant section of the marriage license, including his or her name (full legal name), title (minister), and ministerial ID number. Second, the minister must oversee the signing of the marriage license by the other parties to make sure it is done correctly and in accordance with the law.
Further, the minister is responsible for filing the marriage license with the office that issued it. The timeframe for doing so is short (within four days of the ceremony), so careful attention must be paid to the deadline. Finally, the Universal Life Church recommends that the officiant keep a detailed record of the day's proceedings. If he or she is being paid, this should be considered part of his or her job, but even if the officiant is not being paid, it is the safe and considerate thing to do. By having a detailed record, any future questions or issues will be quickly resolved and the legal status of the wedding will be protected.