Are We . . . Or Aren’t We Married?

Posted by Daniel Mast on

by Mary Louise Uchida

    It all began with my driver’s license renewal that year. Hawaii had added a number of required documents in order to renew one’s driver’s license. Those required documents included proof of name change. Since my last name was changed when we got married, I had to come up with an accepted legal document to verify the name change. The best such document would be a copy of the court-recorded marriage certificate.
    Although a bit of a hassle, we could foresee no problem acquiring the necessary paperwork from the courthouse in the county where we were married. It was our fortieth wedding anniversary year, and we had planned a trip to Ohio that summer. Since the trip was scheduled for well ahead of the deadline for renewing my license, we decided we would simply drop by the local courthouse while we were in Ohio and pick up an official copy of the marriage certificate. No problem.
    We flew all night to Cleveland and rented a car. After a sleepy breakfast, we headed to the courthouse, about two hours away. At the courthouse, we located the correct office and waited for the only people ahead of us, an arguing couple applying for a marriage license. While they continued their arguments, Hubby and I quietly speculated on the probabilities for the success of that marriage.
    When they finally left, the frazzled clerk called us up to the desk. Relief was written on her face, as we hastily explained what we needed. Her response was simple. “No problem, but since that was a long time ago, I have to go back into the archives.” She left the room to locate our ancient records. It took her awhile, but she eventually reappeared. “We have a problem,” she said. “There is no marriage certificate for you on record.” She then went on to explain, “We have the application for the marriage license, but no recorded certificate.”
    We were speechless. Her words were like so much gibberish. I couldn’t even grasp them, much less comprehend their ramification! 
    As we began to recover, the questions poured forth. Whaaat??? What do you mean you don’t have the record? What in the world happened? And what does it mean? Are we even married? If not, then what? What happens now? 
    The clerk speculated that the minister who married us might have forgotten to send in the signed document. Impossible, we told her. He is a meticulous person. The only other possibilities we could think of were that the document from the wedding got lost in the mail, or it somehow fell through the cracks at the court house before it could be officially recorded. Whatever the case, something had to be done. We couldn’t just leave things the way they were.
    After pondering awhile, the clerk tentatively explained how the problem could possibly be fixed. Among the options she offered was to have the same minister sign the same kind of document and for us to bring that signed document to the courthouse where we would physically hand over the document and they would record it immediately. After some discussion, this option seemed like a feasible course of action. After all, I knew the pastor and the fact that, although 40 years had passed, he was still living. He was then in his nineties, still as sharp as ever, and lived independently in his own home. 
    With our astonishing new agenda and the unsigned document, we headed his direction. En route, I called the pastor and asked if we could visit, but did not mention our situation. He was cordial and gracious as always, and he welcomed us into his home. 
    After some friendly catching up, we explained our predicament and requested that he help us by signing an official document for us. Did I mention he is meticulous? He excused himself and went to his office where he kept records of all the wedding ceremonies he had ever performed over the course of his long ministry. When he returned, he acknowledged that yes, indeed, he had done our wedding and was therefore willing to sign the paper for us to take back to the courthouse. On the paper was the date of the wedding, but his signature at the bottom was dated the current date. I am sure that is the way it had to be done, but it looked to me like he was saying that we had just gotten married that very day. We left his home with the precious document in hand.
    We were sleep-deprived and exhausted, so we decided to delay our return trip to the courthouse until the next day. On the way to our B and B lodging, I called our son to wish him a happy birthday. “Dad and I are giving you a special gift for your birthday this year. We’re getting married.” Confusion, disbelief, and giggles as I explained. Though it was not her birthday, our daughter had much the same reaction.
    Meanwhile, more unanswered questions buffeted our tired brains. Are we legally married? If not, what does that mean? If not, would common-law marriage rules apply? What about all the legal documents we signed as husband and wife over the years? Were they legitimately legal? Could they now be nullified in a lawsuit? What about our children? Does this legally impact them in any way?
    The next day we hurried back to the courthouse, and placed the precious document in the hands of the clerk. She did all the necessary paperwork, and we left with the officially recorded marriage certificate in hand.
    The whole experience felt surreal—but also a tiny bit celebratory. Our amiable hosts at the B and B were so taken with our story that they prepared a wedding meal for us, complete with a small wedding cake! Our adult kids sent us a sweet wedding card. And since we were already traveling, we viewed our trip as a honeymoon. On our “First Anniversary,” we received congratulatory messages.
    Seven years have passed since then; but if you ask us how long we have been married, we say, “Either seven years, or forty-seven years; we don’t know.”

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