Prison Weddings: Marrying an inmate

When you’re deeply in love, it’s easy to think that nothing can ever come between the two of you. However, sometimes the worst happens and one of you ends up behind bars. Whether you’re eagerly engaged to someone serving a short sentence, or you want to make your dedication known to someone who’s been imprisoned for life, incarcerated weddings do happen. Here’s how to make the best of yours.

Make Sure You Mean It

While a good soul-searching is an important part of any major life decision, it goes double for an engagement where one of the lovers is behind bars. As with any engagement that involves a long-distance relationship, there are factors that can complicate emotions and lead to hasty decision-making.

Be sure that you want to commit yourself to life with a partner who may be unable to share household chores and expenses, accompany you to pivotal occasions like births and graduations, or grow old by your side. Be sure you agree how child raising will work, and how you define monogamy. If you only know your would-be spouse through letters, ask yourself if you are fully ready to tie your lives together.

Be sure you are fully comfortable with the reason your intended is behind bars. Consider not only the action that caused the arrest, but also the emotional state of mind that led to performing that action. If you don’t approve of the crime, but hope that your lover has changed since then, consult with a professional therapist about the chances of full, permanent recovery.

Consider the social stigma of being married to an inmate. While, ideally, your friends and family should respect your decision, this is not always the case. You will have to go through the painful process of explaining to new people in your life why they have never met your spouse. That’s not to say you should abandon your hopes of marrying your true love–just be prepared for a long road of explaining your situation to people who may not fully understand.

The logistics of a prison wedding

Of course, most people who get engaged do so because they mean it; you probably breezed your way through the above section. So, now that you’ve given your marriage careful thought, it’s time to approach the nitty-gritty of making the wedding happen. Unlike chapel, beach, or garden weddings, you don’t have a lot of choices about your ceremony location. Y

ou also don’t get to invite a lot of friends or family–which, in some situations, is a great way to avoid stress. It may help to think of your prison wedding as the ultimate elopement. Even though it’s not under ideal circumstances, you can still make it romantic.

Depending on the prison system, you’ll have to jump through different hoops to make your marriage legal. You will almost always need the warden’s permission, and you may need to complete blood tests depending on state rules. You may not be able to choose your own wedding date if the legal authorities have a full calendar.

If you follow a non-mainstream religion, you may not even be able to select your desired type of wedding officiant. You may not be allowed time alone with your new spouse after the wedding. Some prison systems, however, have much more relaxed rules. It’s best to call and ask about the marriage process as it applies to your specific situation.

Remember, as the non-incarcerated member of the couple, it is up to you to do most of the pre-marriage legwork. The first thing to do is to ask the warden for permission to marry. Since inmates forfeit many of their freedoms while incarcerated, even the free half of the couple needs to play by the rules of the institution. (Depending on the inmate’s sentence and behavior, getting permission may not be possible.)

You’ll also need to acquire and pay for a marriage license from the court ahead of time. Since a marriage license requires your intended’s signature, you may need to hire a notary to travel to the prison to notarize the signature. The total cost for this process is often several hundred dollars, not counting the prison officiant’s fees (which usually need to be paid on the day of the wedding).

Like any marriage licensing, you need to provide legal documentation of your identity, citizenship, and age, as well as abide by the other rules of your state. You also need a witness, who can be pulled from the prison facility or can come with you (just make sure the person is on the approved visitors’ list).

The best way to prepare yourself for the wedding process is to speak with the visitation coordinator or the chaplain at the prison. You may also want to speak with other couples who have been married within the same prison system to hear their stories.

Be ready for life changes

While it is certainly more romantic (not to mention simpler) to wait until a prison sentence has ended to start planning a wedding, for some couples waiting is not an option. Be sure your love is strong and your vision for marriage is realistic. More importantly, discuss your future with your spouse-to-be. All good marriages hinge on open communication, and prison marriages are no exception.

Make plans for how your marriage will change once the prison sentence ends. With careful planning, your marriage now will be only the start of a long love story to come.