Getting married by a Justice of the Peace instead of by a religious minister is a personal choice. An increasing number of couples believe that selecting a Justice of the Peace (JP) is a much more convenient alternative than going through a church wedding where religious rituals and traditions have to be adhered to.
The historical role of Justices of the Peace was to maintain peace and order in their respective jurisdictions. Long time ago, the job of a JP was unpaid and was attached more to status and prestige. Their responsibilities included conducting arraignments in criminal cases and investigating misdeamenors. Countries like England, US, Australia, Canada and Jamaica have their own set of rules for appointing Justices of the Peace and what their specific functions are. In spite of variations in their training and qualifications, they share one common denominator: to uphold peace and order. In modern times, they are also compensated for their duties.
Couples who prefer a civil union call upon a Justice of the Peace. Justices of the Peace are also requested to perform a wedding ceremony for same sex couples which some religious ministers would prefer not to do. A JP can preside over a same sex marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut.
Selecting a Justice of the Peace - In Canada
In the province of Ontario, a Justice of the Peace is defined as a judicial officer who is appointed by an Order in Council. They can remain in office until they reach the age of 70. Because of the responsibilities of a JP, individuals who aspire to that role must have integrity and a strong sense of fairness and sound judgment. They must understand and be able to interpret provincial legislation and decrees. Needless to add, they must have excellent communication and administrative skills.
The Canadian Government web site (Department of Human Resources and Skills) describes what a JP does and how one can become a JP. While majority of their duties are law-related (subpoenas, warrants, summons, affidavits), they are also qualified to perform civil marriages. They must complete a government-sponsored training program and must have had prior legal or court experience. The lieutenant governor usually appoints Justices of the Peace.
Selecting a JP to perform your civil marriage is not difficult. All you need to do is go to your city or town courthouse and you will be directed to the proper channels.
In the US…
If you live in Massachusetts, there is one JP who has his own web site and he provides all the essential information on how to get married by him.
A mandatory requirement is of course the marriage licence. Without it, a JP cannot conduct a civil ceremony. If you are eloping, he can still marry you provided you have a valid Massachusetts marriage licence. At least no blood tests are required, nor do you need witnesses. This JP also says that you can write your own wedding vows (he has samples for you to choose from if you don’t feel like writing them yourself), and there is no need to recite lengthy speeches. Most times, all you need to say is “I do.”
Neither is venue a problem. The JP says that two people with a valid marriage licence can get married anywhere in the state of Massachusetts – at his home, outdoors in a garden or park, at a hotel. Rehearsals won’t be necessary if you want just a basic wedding, but if there will a retinue of guests, a rehearsal is called for. As to how a JP should dress in a civil wedding, he says he usually wears a plain black robe, or if couples request it, he can make do with a simple business suit.
After the JP performs the civil marriage, he will not issue the Certificate of Marriage. You will have to apply for this document from the Town Registry. The law requires him to mail your certificate of marriage to the town hall, after which you can request for it after a few days.
Cost for being married by the Justice of the Peace
The same JP in Massachusetts says that his services can cost anywhere from $100.00 to $325.00 (this is the maximum he will charge). If there is a pre-nuptial conference (which he recommends), the fee is $50.00. Should you decide not to use his services after the pre-nuptial conference, the $50.00 fee is waived. The pre-nuptial conference can be carried out by email.
Justices of the Peace - Why Not the Entire Package?
Some ministers will arrange for the complete wedding package if they are requested. For instance, one minister who has a toll free number says that he has compiled a list of the “finest” Justices of the Peace and ministers to serve as officiants in a wedding ceremony. He goes by the name of Reverend Louis Conselatore and he has always been fond of officiating at ceremonies, whether civil or religious. Numerous couples who have been referred to him have requested his services.
Reverend Louis Conselatore says he has done all the background checking and due diligence necessary so that ceremonies are given the personalized care they need. He has about 24 officiants on his web site complete with their photographs. There’s also information about each of them. He has about three female ministers on staff. He also provides a list of city offices in each state that will issue marriage licences.
Ceremonies last between 15 and 30 minutes, but couples are free to extend it. Reverend Louis does not require counseling prior to the ceremony and rehearsals are left entirely up to the couple. They do over 400 weddings a year, so to him, a rehearsal wouldn’t be necessary but he and his JPs and ministers will always accommodate the wishes of the couple. They usually arrive at the wedding ceremony site an hour earlier so they can go through a briefing with the couple and their wedding participants.
Banish the thought from your mind that getting married before a JP makes your marriage less of a marriage. Just because you didn’t have the historical church and the religious rituals that marked your union does not mean that your marriage is invalid. Justices of the Peace are court officers; hence your marriage is ruled by law and is 100% legal.