According to a new bill before the California Senate, you may not need to go to a courthouse to get legally married in California anymore. Assembly Bill 583 would allow couples to get married remotely as long as they can appear via video conference.
This bill could have far-reaching effects. Weddings have historically required both parties to be present in-person to be finalized. Allowing people to get married remotely not only makes marriage more accessible but also may provide precedent to simplify other legal processes, as well. Here’s the breakdown of how AB 583 works and how it might affect weddings in the future.
What Is AB 583
In April of 2020, Newsom put an emergency order in place to protect California citizens from COVID-19. One element of the order allowed couples to legally marry without appearing in person to reduce in-person interactions between strangers Currently, this order remains in place along with the rest of the emergency order. However, once it expires, so will the ability to marry remotely.
Outside of the current emergency order, California law requires both parties to appear in person before an officiant and witnesses to make a marriage official. The officiant signs documents affirming that both spouses consented to the wedding and were there of their own free will. Once the forms are returned to the state, the marriage is considered official.
Today, there’s no need for the officiant to actually meet the couple in person. Video conferencing allows people to interact without having to leave their homes or offices. As the past year has demonstrated, an officiant can talk with an engaged couple and marry them without meeting them face-to-face. That’s why AB 583 was proposed by Assemblyman Chiu.
The goal of AB 583 is to make the remote wedding element of Governor Newsom’s emergency order permanent. Instead of returning to the previous status quo of mandatory in-person weddings, the bill would allow people to choose remote options if that works better for their life circumstances.
The Pros and Cons of Making Marriage Simpler
As with every legal proposal, there are benefits and drawbacks to the changes proposed in AB 583. It’s valuable to understand why people may argue against a bill that otherwise seems like an obvious decision. Here are the main points of argument against and for the bill.
Drawback: Potential for More Mistakes
When getting married doesn’t require a drive to a courthouse, there is the potential for people to get married without planning things in advance. One of the reasons that there are limitations in place on marriages is to keep people from making impulsive decisions.
However, the bill does not affect other elements of California weddings like waiting periods. So, while scheduling remote weddings makes it easier for people to get married without traveling, it seems unlikely that it will make spontaneous marriages more common. People will still need to apply for a wedding license in advance to get married.
Drawback: Potential for Fraud
The biggest drawback to distance weddings is the potential for fraud. Two people getting married in person is impossible to fake because they are both present and accounted for. However, remote weddings might open the door to fraudulent marriages since the officiant is not in the same room as the couple.
AB 583 relies on the rest of the legal structure around weddings to prevent this fraud. The process of getting a license to get married involves providing several different legal documents proving identity. Unless someone knows their target’s social security number and other identifying information, it should not be possible to get a marriage license without the target’s consent.
Of course, just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Officiants will need to do their due diligence to ensure that a wedding is genuine before submitting the signed documents.
Despite these drawbacks, the bill has many more important benefits for people throughout the state. The most fundamental advantage is simple: weddings become more accessible for everyone. People with disabilities or illnesses won’t have to risk their health to get married. That’s an important step forward for equity.
Meanwhile, weddings will also be easier for everyone else as well. People who want to get married somewhere that officiants cannot or do not want to visit can still have their dream wedding. Getting married out of state while getting a California marriage certificate will be more straightforward than ever.
The First Step to Simpler Divorces?
Finally, while simplifying the marriage process will have immediate benefits for engaged and homebound people, there are wider-reaching effects to consider. The bill may set a precedent to allow other legal proceedings to take place remotely, as well. That could impact everything from divorce to civil lawsuits.
For example, the precedent of AB 583 may pave the road for remote divorces. Today, you need to attend hearings in person or send a representative in your stead. The goal is to make sure that both parties have equal representation during the separation process.
Suppose you or your partner has moved out of state. In that case, the possibility of a remote divorce could make your separation much more straightforward. A distant divorce through video conferencing allows you to attend remotely and speak for yourself. Long delays and scheduling complications would be a thing of the past.
Making Married Life Easier
Getting married remotely can be an excellent way to elope or get married when you’re unable to make it to the courthouse. AB 583 is offering California citizens a chance at permanent freedom to marry wherever they like. While the bill isn’t perfect, it may also pave the way to making divorces easier for people who cannot be present in person.
Whether you’re considering getting married in California or divorce is on your radar, this bill is good news. Should it pass, everything about scheduling legal proceedings related to marriage should be more accessible. Until then, if you have any legal questions regarding your wedding or divorce, never hesitate to reach out to a qualified attorney for help.