Court Ruling Spikes Internet Ministers, Highlights Legal Issue

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Some quotes from Tresa Baldas,The National Law Journal, October 29, 2007, online:

Family law attorneys are urging couples to steer clear of Internet-ordained ministers when seeking an officiate to perform their nuptials.

Their warnings follow a recent Pennsylvania court decision in which a judge declared a marriage invalid because the couple had been married by an Internet-ordained minister. The court ruled that the officiate was unauthorized under state law to perform a wedding. Heyer v. Hollerbush, No. 2007 SU 2132 Y08 (York Co., Pa., Ct. C.P).

The ruling, divorce attorneys claim, sets a dangerous precedent in encouraging other unhappy partners to seek similar paths to avoid alimony and property division.

In other words, a spouse who wants an easy out from a marriage and doesn't want to pay alimony or split property could simply argue that the wedding wasn't valid, so neither is the marriage.

"If this ruling holds, and if it spreads, anyone who was married by an online preacher ... can get an easy way out," said Lynn Gold-Bikin, managing partner of the family law practice of Philadelphia's Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen.

"Should that person be able to go into a court and say, 'This isn't legitimate. Oops. I don't want the marriage anymore.'? I don't think so," she said.

Seattle-based Universal Life Church, the largest provider of online ordination, claims to have ordained more than 20 million ministers through the mail or online since 1959. In the past three years, the group said online ordinations have increased 100 percent, but would not give actual numbers.

Other groups offering instant ordination include the Progressive Life Church and Ordination.org.

Currently, Internet-ordained ministers are legal in all 50 states, except for certain counties in Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the practice has faced legal challenges in the past decade.


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