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Please consider the following hypothetical siltation. Two people, of the opposite gender, are planning on getting married. When it is time for the ceremony, one of them does not show up. The minister that is performing the ceremony marries the two people anyway.

Assuming the person that did not show up did not want to get married, what should that person do? I am thinking he/she can and should apply for a legal annulment. Am I right about that?

I also want to know, if this has ever happened in real life. I believe it has ; at least in the past.

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    Who signed the marriage certificate?
    – komodosp
    Dec 21, 2023 at 12:45
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    As in they forged the signature of the person not present?
    – komodosp
    Dec 21, 2023 at 12:50
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    You get married at the courthouse/town hall. The rest is a social endeavor. Just because a marriage is recognized by the state, does not mean it is automatically recognized by the church and vice versa. See separation of State and Church.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 21, 2023 at 14:25
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    @MonkeyZeus Actually, many states do recognize ordained ministers as officiants for performing marriage ceremonies. The marriage license must be obtained from the courthouse, but a license doesn't mean you're married. The officiant must meet with the parties and they must agree that they want to marry.
    – barbecue
    Dec 21, 2023 at 16:27
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    @MonkeyZeus Being married by a minister is allowed not required. Other possible officiants include clerks of the court and judges. In my state, notaries public can also officiate marriages. Atheists are free to use whatever legally recognized officiant they want, including ordained ministers if one is willing and available. Some churches may restrict what they allow their ministers to do, but that's not a legal restriction. Some churches exist specifically to provide this service.
    – barbecue
    Dec 21, 2023 at 18:19

1 Answer 1

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Both spouses must be present to marry in almost all U.S. jurisdictions.

A handful of U.S. jurisdictions permit people to marry when they are not both physically present at the same place. But, even in those states, this is allowed only in very limited circumstances (mostly foreign military service deployments of one spouse). Also, even in those states, there must still be a proxy for the missing spouse at the marriage event to approve the marriage, who has been expressly authorized by the absent spouse to serve in this role. This is called "marriage by proxy" and is recognized in the following jurisdictions in certain circumstances:

In the United States, proxy marriages are provided for in law or by customary practice in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana. Of these, Montana is the only state that allows double-proxy marriage. Proxy marriages cannot be solemnized in any other U.S. states.

("Proxy marriage", Wikipedia)

Proxy marriages are also allowed under some interpretations of Islamic law.

Other common law legal jurisdictions mirror the U.S. in this regard.

In almost all civil law jurisdictions, the essential point is that both spouses sign the marriage form (not necessarily contemporaneously in some jurisdictions), and the religious marriage ceremony has no legal effect. Some of those jurisdictions, however, require that the parties sign the marriage form, or at least present the signed marriage form, together contemporaneously in the presence of a government clerk.

For example, in the opening part of the manga series and anime adapted from it, in Tonikawa: Over The Moon For You, the sixteen-year-old wife signed the marriage form and had her guardian affix her seal consenting to her marriage in advance, the husband then signs the marriage form in his apartment, and they then go together to the marriage clerk at town hall to present the signed form together to the clerk so that they can be officially married (notably in the absence of the consenting guardian). While this is obviously a fictional story, this process is indeed permissible and valid in Japan, a civil law country, where the story is set.

The only circumstance I can think of which is an exception to this rule is that France allows a person who was formally engaged to another person, but died before the marriage could be concluded, to be married posthumously in some circumstances.

The presence of both spouses at a wedding has been required at all times in human history of which I am aware, even in places outside both the common law legal tradition and the civil law legal tradition, such as traditional tribal law, and such as the laws of Asian, African, and American civilizations prior to meaningful Western influence on their legal systems.

The assent of both spouses has been required almost everywhere for hundreds of years almost everywhere (although in pre-modern times, there was less of a concern that party to the wedding might be agreeing to be married under duress), and there have been some times in the historical record when a woman's consent to her marriage was not required and a parent or guardian of the woman gave consent to her marriage instead. But even then, the woman's presence at the wedding was required.

Specifically:

Two people, of the opposite gender, are planning on getting married. When it is time for the ceremony, one of them does not show up. The minister that is performing the ceremony marries the two people anyway.

Assuming the person that did not show up did not want to get married, what should that person do? I am thinking he/she can and should apply for a legal annulment. Am I right about that?

The marriage would be void ab initio without any action taken. But if a legal document such as a marriage certificate were filed anyway, purporting to show that the couple was married, a legal action for an annulment would be an appropriate action. The person who officiated the wedding and signed the marriage certificate in this situation could also be prosecuted criminally for doing so.

Likewise, in the Roman Catholic church, at least, an annulment would be a remedy available for religious purposes under canon law and the priest who conducted the wedding anyway would also be severely punished for going forward with the wedding in this situation.

I also want to know, if this has ever happened in real life. I believe it has ; at least in the past.

I am not aware of a single example of this happening ever, in the recorded history of the world. (Who knows what happened before then, when law as we know it wasn't really a thing.) But, recorded history is about 5500 years long, and involves tens of billions of people all over the globe, and I'm not omniscient.

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  • I have been told that this has happened in the United States at least once but the person who told me this, did not have a good source backing him up.
    – Bob
    Dec 20, 2023 at 22:20
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    @Bob Feel free to prove me wrong and we'll both learn something.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 20, 2023 at 22:26
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    @Bob If your twin has your social security number and wants to play the ultimate prank then they can marry you by forging your signature. Good luck proving that you're NOT married if there are enough bad actors.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 21, 2023 at 14:36
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    @Stef Thanks. Being French, avoidance of bureaucracy is a goal in life so even after such a trip, in these circumstances, I would have fled the office because it can only be very difficult and once you put your finger in you are done forever :)
    – WoJ
    Dec 21, 2023 at 18:07
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    Jewish law also allows marriage by proxy. I've heard of a rather sticky situation where the proxy said "to me" (the standard phrasing which everyone knows) instead of "to [x person]" and the question is now who the woman is married to...
    – Esther
    Dec 21, 2023 at 19:23

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