It’s no secret that the wedding industry is full of excess and cost overruns. But not every couple can head to a wedding expo to plan their big day. In fact, in some cases, one-half of the couple can’t even leave the building they’re in. Not everyone knows that prison inmates can and do get married with some frequency.
It looks a lot different than the average wedding, but it’s still a legally binding ceremony. For many couples, it’s a bittersweet occasion, but they’re committed to going through with it all the same. Here are some things you should know about what marrying an inmate looks like in the United States.
How Prison Marriages Work
In a normal relationship, the couple can walk into a courthouse just about any time it’s open and apply for a marriage license. But most people have no idea how to even start the process of marrying someone who is behind bars. Your best bet is to look at your state’s department of corrections. Many have a website with information about wedding ceremonies. For instance, if you’re getting married to an inmate in Oregon, the website will tell you that you can’t bring in “food, cameras or special clothing.” In other words, don’t plan on cutting any cake with your spouse. Not every request for a prison marriage will be approved, either. If your intended doesn’t meet eligibility requirements, you’ll have to wait until they do.
There should be a contact person within the prison that you talk to about requesting a marriage ceremony. That may be the prison chaplain or family visiting coordinator. But they’ll be able to help you with the next steps. Both you and the person behind bars will have to fill out some paperwork, though. The paperwork is a constant in marriage, even if the circumstances are unique.
There’s also a cost to a prison marriage, and it will often be more than the price of a regular marriage. However, that depends in large part on the state you’re in. You’ll need a witness and an officiant as well. While your best friend might be able to officiate a wedding outside prison walls, a prison wedding has more security restrictions. Witnesses will also need to be on the facility’s list of approved visitors.
The Risks Of Marrying An Inmate
If you want to marry someone who is incarcerated, you should expect a lot of people to judge you. It may not seem fair, but it’s the reality. You may believe your future spouse is innocent of the charges that landed him there, but a lot of other people won’t believe that. If possible, talk to other prison spouses about the difficulties of this unique relationship.
Chances are, you and your spouse won’t even get a chance to consummate the marriage immediately. Conjugal visits aren’t nearly as common as they used to be. Mississippi ended its conjugal visits program in 2014, leaving only four states where conjugal visits are permitted: Washington, New York, New Mexico, and California. And New Mexico also halted such visits later that same year.
Other people can proudly display photos of their spouses on their phones. But you may need to perform a Kansas inmate search to show friends and family members a picture of the person you married That’s too much for some people. And it’s also not surprising that prison marriages have a high failure rate. The Aleph Institute reported a divorce rate of 85 percent when one partner was behind bars for at least a year.
You need to be absolutely sure you’re getting married for the right reasons. Don’t get hitched because you have a desire to “save” the person who is incarcerated. Do it because you love them and can truly see a future together after they’re released.