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Secret Marriages -- The Legalities of Do-Overs

Are Do-Overs Legal?


Newlywed couple descending steps together
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George IV, Queen Isabella, John Donne, Sir Robert Dudley, William Wycherley, Prince Albert Victor, Theodore Beza, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mae West, Brandy, and Janet Jackson are just a few of the many folks throughout history who have had secret marriages.

Many couples today have secret marriages. Here's how a couple can get married again before their family and friends.

Q. What is a secret marriage?

A. Many couples throughout the ages have had secret marriages. There are several types of secret marriages:
  • A civil secret marriage is a marriage that is not revealed to family and friends.
  • A judicial secret marriage is one held before a judge, in a closed court session. This type of marriage is allowed in some jurisdictions under special circumstances, but not in all locales.
  • In Michigan, back in 1897, secret marriages were approved. If a couple requests a secret marriage, after the ceremony is solemnized, the officiant returns the certificate, but no record is kept, except the judge's record, and the file is sealed.
  • In California, if you have lived together as husband and wife, you can apply for a confidential license. This means there is no public record of your marriage.

Q. Second Marriage License?

My fiance and I want to get married before we have our large wedding ceremony. Do we have to get a second marriage license before our planned big wedding? We don't want anyone to know we are already married.
A. No. You do not need to get a second marriage license. In fact, in most locales, the second license wouldn't be legal anyways.

You should let the officiant of your planned wedding know that you are already married. Some couples arrange to meet with the officiant privately for a few minutes after the wedding ceremony so their guests will think that they are signing the marriage certificate.

In New York State, if an officiant requires a marriage license, a couple already legally married may apply for a second or subsequent license from the Town or City where they were married.

Q. Why do couples want to have a secret marriage?

A. Some couples want to have a secret marriage due to legal and financial issues. Others keep their marriage a secret because of family problems. There are as many reasons for having a secret marriage as there are couples marrying secretly.

Q. We've been married secretly for a year. Now we want to have a wedding. Is this okay?

A. Sure it is. Many couples want to reaffirm their love for one another with family and friends present.

Q. Shall we let people attending the second wedding know that we are already married?

A. That is truly up to the two of you. If you do decide to let your wedding guests know of your marital status, it would be appropriate to say so on your wedding invitation.
  • Example: On January 2nd, we married one another in a civil ceremony. Please join us to celebrate our love for one another before family, friends, and God.

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