Planning a civil wedding ceremony?
Who will be your Officiant?
You know… the person who "makes your marriage legal". Maybe s/he is the person providing the least costly service for your wedding festivities. Yet, this is the person who sets the tone for YOUR special day.
Each state has different rules and requirements as to who can solemnize a marriage. This brief article is intended to address only Officiants in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and more specifically Justices of the Peace
For background purposes you should be aware that most Justices of the Peace are authorized to solemnize marriages anywhere within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Each city/town is authorized one Justice of the Peace per 5000 population. A recent tally indicated over 1600 Justices of the Peace actively registered in Massachusetts. The fees a Justice can charge for a basic legal ceremony are set by statute, meaning they are regulated in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws. You should keep in mind that regarding solemnizing marriages, the primary role of the Justice of the Peace is to perform a "civil ceremony".
Now that you have some fundamental understanding about a Justice of the Peace, you might be better prepared to find and choose a Justice of the Peace as your Officiant.
Who to choose? Who to choose?
The honest answer is to find an individual Justice of the Peace who fits your style, personality, philosophy and certainly someone who shows the willingness and flexibility to meet your needs and requirements. Each Justice will have his/her particular style and not all provide the same level of service and/or support. There is more to your ceremony than just the written words. Often the tone of your wedding ceremony reverberates by how it is delivered.
Asking the Justice of the Peace the following questions, in no particular order of importance, might help you hone in on the best selection for YOUR special day.
- Can I customize my ceremony e.g. have readings, songs, and change some passages around? If the answer is "Yes", understand that there may be an additional charge for this.
- Will you be willing to come to a rehearsal? . Or… Do you insist on being at the rehearsal?
- Do you run the rehearsal? This is a trick question. Some venues have wedding planners or coordinators that run the show but may be willing to share or delegate the execution of the rehearsal details. Both the planner and the JP can help your rehearsal to run smoothly.
- Could you give me some examples of how you would normally interface with my other vendors; e.g. DJ, wedding planner, photographer, musician(s) etc?
- Are you able/willing to include some religious passages into the ceremony? Remember that Justices of the Peace are primarily hired to perform "civil (non-religious) ceremonies".
- Are the ceremonies always "serious" or can we have light hearted, humorous moments?
- Is there a charge for the initial consultation/meeting?
The above questions are just a few of many that can be asked. You should be prepared to ask each Officiant with whom you speak enough questions to feel comfortable making a final choice. You might also develop some questions specific to you own situation.
Although indicators point to a better economic forecast, these are extremely difficult economic conditions the likes of which most contemporary couples have never witnessed nor have their parents. No matter what vendor I speak to, everyone has seen cutbacks in what is being spent for weddings.
Many emails I receive from couples begin with "what are your fees?" As previously mentioned, Justice's fees are regulated. The overall difference in the cost, if any, between choosing a superb Justice of the Peace or a mediocre one may be minimal. Any difference should be contingent upon how much of your ceremony is customized, where the ceremony will be performed and if there is a rehearsal that the Justice is asked to attend. Also mentioned previously, the Justice of the Peace can set the tone for the rest of YOUR special day and perhaps the additional effort you put into the selection process to insure you work with the right person for your needs might be worth it in the long run.
My suggestion to all those who read this article is to rethink your approach to choosing a Justice of the Peace. Talk to friends, neighbors, relatives, your DJ, Photographer, wedding planner, musician(s), etc. Ask if they've worked with any Justice of the Peace whom they feel stood out from the crowd and might fit your profile of needs and requirements.
You may want to take a moment to rethink your priorities. Start looking for the Justice of the Peace at the same time you choose your venue. By waiting to decide on a Justice, you may end up disappointed because the Justice you want may no longer be available for your date/time. Some of Justices are already booking two years out.
In conclusion, your Officiant should be someone who will work closely with you to make your ceremony meaningful and consistent with your requirements. Remember, "This is your ceremony!"
This article was written by Justice Mike Backer, President of the Massachusetts Justices of the Peace Association, Inc. 7/1/07 through 6/30/11.