April 9, 2024

Navigating North Carolina Wedding Officiant Rules: What You Need to Know

Planning a wedding or elopement involves many decisions, from choosing the perfect location to selecting the clothes you wear and the people you want to be present alongside you. However, one crucial aspect that often gets pushed until the last minute is ensuring you have a qualified officiant to solemnize your marriage. But I suggest you bring that to the top of your list. This choice can impact your entire experience and it unfortunately isn’t so black and white in our state… You will want to be sure you are following North Carolina Wedding Officiant rules that govern who can officiant weddings.

As a local photographer and videographer in the Asheville area, I have helped countless couples plan their elopement experiences. Therefore, I’m here to help guide you in the right direction. Let’s delve into what you need to know about North Carolina wedding officiant rules!

A female couple is standing in front of a waterfall during their wedding in North Carolina while their officiant is reading from their book. They are holding hands and smiling at each other.

Who Can Officiant Your North Carolina Wedding?

In North Carolina, ordained ministers of any religious denomination, ministers authorized by a church, federally or state-recognized Indian Nation or Tribe, and even some judges can officiate weddings. Additionally, North Carolina law allows for marriages to be solemnized by a magistrate.

What about Online Ordinations?

The legality of online ordination to officiate weddings in North Carolina has been a topic of debate for quite some time. Particularly the validity of marriages performed by Universal Life Church Ministers.

Here is what I’ve come to know to be true, and have confirmed with my lawyer in Buncombe County:

Wedding ceremonies performed by ULC ministers are presumed to be valid – This means that they won’t be rejected by the register of deeds or SSA.

BUT HERE IS THE PROBLEM: They are still technically voidable by a judge.

This doesn’t mean it’s illegal, invalid, or unrecognized by the state and therefore shouldn’t impact your day to day life. The risk lies in the potential of things go awry in the future.

Now, I know no one wants to think about your marriage getting messy during the time you get married. But, unfortunately it is a reality to consider. If you get married solely by someone who is ordained online by the Universal Life Church, someone in your partnership could deem your marriage as invalidated down the line if they wanted to.

This is most likely going to cause a problem if you ever want to get divorced. (I KNOW, I’M SORRY I SAID IT!)

It is possible that you or your spouse could tell a judge your marriage was invalid. The judge could agree and it could cause a whole lot of havoc on the further proceedings, such as spousal support or equitable asset division.

So what does that mean?

All-in-all, it isn’t likely to cause problems in your daily life. Which is why so many people have continued to go this route when choosing an officiant for their wedding.
BUT, it could cause a whole lot of problems if things don’t turn out the way you hoped.

If you want to cover all your bases and make sure your marriage is solid as could be legally, I suggest doing one of two things:

  1. Find someone who is officially ordained with an officially recognized organization to perform your ceremony
  2. Go to a courthouse and get married by a magistrate

Lots of my couples will go ahead and get married before their elopement celebration at their local courthouse. This allows for the legalities and red tape to be finalized before you go out and have your dream adventure! The benefits include having ample time and space to do whatever you want on your wedding day. You won’t have to hire another vendor or schedule your timeline around their availability. You will also get a lot more privacy to share private vows whenever and however you want.

If you picked option number 2, you could also have a family or friend officiant a ceremony for you during your celebration. This allows for a really personalized experience with someone who you know, love and trust.

A couple is having a North Carolina Wedding with an officiant reciting words to them while they hold hands. There is a bench, a rainbow, and bridesmaids and groomsmen standing nearby.

Steps For Getting Officially Married in North Carolina

  1. Fill out and complete a marriage license application: downloaded from any county’s Register of Deeds website in NC. Here is the one from Buncombe County.
  2. Pick up your marriage license from the county you applied in: Arrive together and present valid identification. The license is typically valid for 60 days from the date of issuance.
  3. Sign the paperwork: along with the officant/magistrate and two witnesses after your ceremony.
  4. Return the marriage license to the Register of Deeds within 10 days: Failure to do so can result in complications with the legal recognition of the marriage. Your officiant or magistrate might do this for you, just make sure you ask and confirm.
A North Carolina Wedding Officiant reads to a couple at sunrise on a mountain during their wedding. They are lit up in warm sunlight and the mountains are moody in the background.

Picking the Perfect Wedding Officiant in North Carolina

As an elopement photographer and videographer, I know how important choosing an officiant can be for your wedding. I wouldn’t suggest picking someone random and hoping for the best. This person sets the stage for the feelings and emotions around the celebration of your love. When that matches who you are, you will have a way better experience than if it doesn’t. Get to know the person you’re hoping to hire and help them get to know you.

Here are some things to consider when picking your officiant:

Cultural and Religious Considerations:

Choose someone who can perform any specific rituals based on your cultural or religious preferences. This will help ensure a meaningful and personalized wedding experience.

Wedding Officiant Personality:

Some officiants might have their own quirks and activities they will have you do before, during, or after your ceremony. You might want someone who is silly and makes jokes. You might enjoy someone who is a bit more sentimental and sweet. Just make sure you and your partner both vibe with them and feel comfortable standing next to them during some heartfelt, emotional moments.

Wedding Ceremony Style & Length:

You can have short ceremonies and you can have long ones. I’ve seen them all! Clarifying what type of ceremony your officiant creates will be key. You would hate to feel like it was over in the blink of an eye when you really wanted to revel in the moment a while longer. On the flip side, you’d hate to be standing there for an hour, checking your watch and wishing it were over!

I suggest finding someone whose ceremony feels like a sweet spot of around 10-20 minutes. Explore what they like to include, and ask if you can include some of your own ideas into the day!

A couple stands in dappled forest light while their officiant hands them rings during a ceremony in North Carolina. They are wearing white and linen outfits.

Phew – that was a lot of technical info wasn’t it?

Navigating the rules and regulations surrounding wedding officiation in North Carolina can definitely seem daunting.

Hopefully I was able to provide some proper understanding and preparation, ensuring you have a smooth and legally recognized union!

Need more help planning a small wedding (aka elopement) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC?




I believe everyone deserves a wedding experience that feels genuine to them.
That’s why I help those who value intimate, unique, & adventurous memories
have a celebration they cherish for a lifetime.
If you’re dreaming of an elopement immersed in the natural beauty of Western NC,
get in touch and I’ll help you bring everything to life!




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