Groom doesn't want to express his feelings publicly

I think it's important to share our feelings about each other during our marriage ceremony but my fiancé is reserved and only wants to say "I do." Can you help me persuade him that weddings where the couple expresses their love for each other are more meaningful and memorable, both for ourselves and our guests?

Patrick Benner, South Burlington VT
To express one's true feelings to another is of course the warmest way. But if he is shy, ask him to write his thoughts down and they can become the vows that the JP speaks. Then all he needs say is "I do."

Steven M. Dembow, Merrimack NH
No words that an officiant can say are capable of expressing the emotions within each husband and wife. I encourage all couples to consider speaking from the heart but few do. The most common excuse is “I’m afraid I am going to cry.” I believe that tears are an unplanned blessing at a wedding. Rather than a sign of weakness, tears are an affirmation of the deep devotion and emotional commitment that each partner is making. And besides,tears are like yawns: they are “catching.” If you look around when tears are shed by a bride or groom, chances are there will be many others reaching for tissues as well! To sum it up, both parties should agree on whether or not to include this aspect in their ceremony, and no one should feel obligated. However, when it is done, it is often the most memorable and touching part of the entire ceremony.

Jeanne Pounder, Dover NH
Most wedding ceremonies, whether it's an elopement for two or a grand affair for 200, share three basic elements: Intentions, Vows, and the Pronouncement. The "I do" part you've mentioned is the Intentions, where each person responds to the officiant, declaring an intent to marry of his/her own free will. It sounds like you're asking about the Vows, which provide an opportunity for promises to be exchanged. This is the only part of the ceremony when the two people speak to each other, and despite what we see in popular culture, it's actually quite common for one or both of them to be uncomfortable with expressing their feelings in public.

For those couples I recommend using the simplest of "repeat after me" statements to take the pressure off. It's also helpful for couples to remember that regardless of whether their vows are short or long, they are speaking to each other, and unless they choose to, they don't need to focus on whether or not guests can hear them speak.

You and your partner may wish to enhance those moments by inviting a relative or friend to read something meaningful to the entire gathering that speaks to the love you share.

Another possibility is to include a silent ritual – a handfasting or candlelighting. Most JPs will offer samples and ideas. Above all, remember that your officiant is there to support you and help you feel less stressed so you actually enjoy the all-too-fleeting moments of your wedding ceremony.

Must I hire a Local JP for my Wedding?

My fiancé and I live in Greenwich, CT. Next summer we plan on getting married at her parents’ home on Candlewood Lake in Brookfield. My question is: Do I have to use a JP who comes from that area?

No, you may use any JP from any area within the state who is willing to come to your location.

When the Wedding Officiant and Venue Coordinator Disagree

Our wedding is set for mid-February at a beautiful estate in Boston. We've chosen our JP and we're working on the ceremony together. There's already a conflict between the venue coordinator and our JP and it's making me crazy. They have different ideas about the processional and the receiving line and our entrance after the ceremony. I don't want to be a mediator. Any advice?

My sympathies to you for having been caught in the middle of a totally unnecessary predicament. You may have given each of those vendors the impression that they have free reign in decision-making – without the need to consult with you. Each has forgotten the one cardinal rule I always follow when working with couples: you are the client – and final decisions must be made by you, and with your approval. You stated that you “didn’t want to be a mediator”; however, the time is now for you to step in and speak up! Your failure to do so now may result in needless stress as your wedding draws near, and you may be less than pleased with the outcome. Today, there is no “right” or “wrong” in wedding ceremonies. Whatever feels right to you and your fiancée should be what your vendors provide. Remember, you are paying the bill!

I usually ask my clients if the facility they have selected utilizes a banquet or wedding coordinator. If so, frequently this representative takes on many of the planning responsibilities around the choreography of the wedding. Having a clear discussion that addresses the “division of responsibilities” upfront will ease any stressors that may arise during the rehearsal or wedding. If I am clear about my clients’ expectations of my role and they are clear on what my role will be, I am usually more than willing to step aside and allow the venue’s representative to control aspects of the ceremony – like where I stand or whether I am included in the wedding processional or whether I announce the bride and groom to their guests after the vow exchange, etc. I suggest you enter into the hiring of a JP as you would the hiring of any professional – discuss and agree to all details in your initial meeting. This will help the JP meet your needs and also help him/her set a fee commensurate with his/her actual duties.

Can a New Hampshire Justice of the Peace Officiate in Massachusetts?

My son is getting married in MA but my dear friend is a JP in NH. Is there any way I can have my friend perform the ceremony in MA?

I was able to officiate at a MA wedding by getting in touch with the Mass Secretary of State. I had to know the name of the bride and groom; where they were to be married (town); and the date. I was issued what I call a "day pass". It was very simple and a quick process.

Is a contract necessary?

I was wondering if a contract is necessary when hiring a JP.

A formal contract isn’t necessary, unless you or the JP wants one. However, a letter from the JP outlining services including dates, times, fees, and contact information is advisable. Most JPs will require a deposit to hold the date.

I do have a formal contract which I use mostly for long-term planning for weddings and for weddings which are large and formal. I do not generally have a contract if the wedding is within a few weeks, nor if it's just the couple and no guests. I will send an email confirming all of the details of what I've discussed with the couple, along with the date, time, cost, etc.

I personally believe it is. The main reason is so that both parties understand that a commitment was made. It protects the couple by making sure the Justice remembers that s/he made a promise to be there, and it spells everything out in detail. My contract is only one page and includes my fees, optional additional fees, payment schedule and time I must receive the marriage license. I specify that changes must be by mutual agreement. Not too much and not too little. I enjoy performing weddings and other ceremonies so I am flexible, but I want to be certain that both sides understand the seriousness of the engagement.

To answer your question, a contract isn't required, but it's a great tool for you and your JP to understand what you're agreeing to. Naturally, the basics of ceremony date, place, and time are important, but there are other considerations as well. Things like the JP's fee and deposit policy, and whether there could be any additional charges. You'll also want to know what will happen if your plans should change. You can be assured that a JP who uses a contract is a professional who wants to work with you to ensure your needs are met and that there aren't any surprises.

Can anyone be a 'JP for a Day' in New Hampshire?

In Massachusetts any individual may apply to be a JP for a day to legally officiate at a wedding. Does New Hampshire offer this same JP for a Day option?

Jeanne Pounder, Dover NH JP
No. New Hampshire does offer accreditation for specific weddings but only to out-of-state individuals who are authorized to perform marriages in their own state.

Can a JP Do only the Legal part of the Ceremony?

Can a JP attend a wedding for legal reasons only and a non-ordained minister perform the actual ceremony?

Matt Loter, New Haven JP
A JP can do the legal side of things before, during or after a non-officiant leads whatever sort of ceremony the couple would like. What you do for a ceremony outside of the JP doing their legal duty has no bearing on if you are married or not. I've personally done weddings with this or similar arrangements hundreds of times over the years. As long as all the paperwork is in order, this is an easy solution to a problem somewhat unique in CT where we don't offer "single day officiant" powers and absolutely do not accept online ministers as legal officiants.

Laura Minor, Bristol CT JP
Yes but it must be crystal clear that the other person is NOT performing the ceremony. A Universal Life minister "facilitated" my daughter's ceremony. He led the couple in their vows and I made the pronouncement.
I did just about the same last year for a bride whose dad read most of the ceremony. In that case, I did the welcome, clearly letting folks know my role, and then I stood to the side as Dad made his comments. I stepped forward again and did the pronouncement and closing.

How can I find a JP who knows American Sign Language?

I was wondering how I can find a Justice of the Peace from the CT area who knows American Sign Language since my soon-to-be husband and I are deaf and would like to make it an interesting night!

A great question because it applies to any special qualifications you are seeking in a JP. At the very bottom of the home page is a Search box. Enter your search terms, in this case American Sign Language, with or without selecting a state. Click "Search" and voila, a page listing JPs with that qualification will be returned. Turns out there are three JPs who know ASL in Connecticut. Happy Wedding!

Beach Weddings

I'm wondering if I can get married by the justice of the peace at a beach?

Steven M. Dembow, New Hampshire JP
So long as any applicable state, local or municipal rules are followed regarding the use of public beaches, most certainly a Justice of the Peace may perform a wedding ceremony there. There are no regulations concerning the use of private beaches for purposes of conducting wedding ceremonies, so long as the property owner has given permission for this to take place or otherwise has no objection.

David Cruickshank, Connecticut JP
Not only can you get married on the beach, but anywhere you can think of! You can get married at the top of a mountain or even while skydiving! Helping you make your day as special as possible is what drives most of us! I love being there at that special moment! The more special it is for you, the more special it is for us. I am performing a ceremony this summer on the beach and another while skydiving!

Online Ceremonies

Are JPs allowed to do an online ceremony? If so, in what states?

The New York Times says so-called proxy marriages are happening via Skype and other online services, especially between Americans and foreigners. But they are registered in the foreign country, not in the U.S. as far as we can tell. We're not aware of any state that permits both parties to a marriage to NOT be physically present. If you do, please share it here.

FYI, here's the online way... in France. Be prepared to tear up.

Maine Marriage Requirements

My fiancé and I are out of state residents but plan on marrying in Maine next week by a justice of the peace if possible. Can we make an appointment to apply for a marriage license? What documents should we bring? My fiancé was previously married and divorced. Does he need to bring verification of his divorce decree? If so, does it need to be sealed and notarized? Would you further clarify the process for getting married by a JP. Are there any other requirements?

Rhode Island Justices of the Peace

Can a Rhode Island JP perform a marriage ceremony in MA?

Rhode Island JPs are not permitted to officiate marriages in Rhode Island! However non-residents, including JPs from other states, can marry people in Massachusetts. Also, a relative or friend may obtain one-time permission to perform a marriage.