Here’s Who Can Get Married in Philly During the Coronavirus Crisis

Virtual marriage licenses for self-uniting ceremonies will be issued in emergencies, but there are caveats.


Marriage certificate

Philly will issue virtual Quaker (self-uniting) marriage licenses in emergencies during the coronavirus crisis. Photo by Karen McFarland / Getty Images

The Philadelphia Register of Wills has issued new guidelines for marriage for emergency situations and licenses that have not yet expired during the coronavirus quarantine. Effective April 6th, virtual marriage licenses can be issued for self-uniting (Quaker) ceremonies in five extreme situations. Those include health issues that could lead to death due to COVID-19; front-line first responders; members of the military; duos who were planning to marry but are now in need of a faster timeline to add health insurance for those with medical conditions; and visa holders with an upcoming departure date. 

“We continually expect updates, and there may be a scenario that we haven’t thought of,” says Mustafa Rashed, a spokesperson for the Register of Wills. A five-step process has been put in place for Philadelphia residents to move forward with obtaining an emergency virtual marriage license. But it’s not exactly easy. Here’s the breakdown (it’s also available on the ROW website):

  1. Send a request for your emergency marriage license to c[email protected]. Include your emergency circumstances, name and partner. If your request is approved, you’ll receive an emailed application.
  2. Complete the application, but do not sign it.
  3. Email Caren Berger and l[email protected] with your unsigned app, photo IDs, documents such as a divorce or death certificate from a previous marriage (if necessary) and your phone numbers. If everything is accepted (read: double and triple check), a Zoom video conference will be set up to finalize your application.
  4. Send via USPS overnight delivery the completed app (make sure to sign it), certified copy of additional documents noted above and as needed, a $100 money order made payable to the Clerk of Orphans’ Court and a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Register of Wills Office. Once all of the materials are received, a self-uniting license will be mailed. The license can’t be used for three days from its date of issuance, and is valid for 60 days after that. 
  5. To receive a valid certified copy of your marriage certificate upon completion, you must send the bottom half of the license (and a self-addressed stamped envelope) via USPS overnight to the Register of Wills Office.

The entire process can take about 30 days, according to Rashed. But there are exceptions. For example, the three-day waiting period is waived for extenuating circumstances such as an impending death of one’s partner or immediate deployment.  

RELATED: A Guide to Philadelphia Weddings During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Those who don’t fall into the emergency categories are not able to apply for marriage licenses until City Hall reopens. And, Rashed notes, if your wedding date is fast-approaching and falls during the stay-at-home edict, but your license is going to expire, that does not count as an emergency.

There are some positives, however. If a couple (who is not in an emergency situation) has a marriage license valid through May 13 (60 days after City Hall closed to the public, which was the last day documents were issued), they can still get married via a self-uniting or other ceremony. They must send in the bottom half of the license (and a self-addressed stamped envelope) to the Register of Wills Office to receive their certified certificate. (Put Attn: Wedding License on your envelope.) Of course, you’ll want to be conscious of social-distancing guidelines for any ceremony.

Additionally, unexpired licenses from all counties in the state are valid throughout the Commonwealth, including in Philadelphia. And each county has the prerogative to set its own rules. York County, for example, is offering video marriage license applications. But the Lancaster County Register of Wills has suspended marriage license issuance indefinitely.

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