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Can You Get Married in Prison?

Getting married while incarcerated is possible in most cases, but the process varies by state and prison facility. Marriage allows inmates certain privileges and rights, but also comes with strict guidelines and limitations. This comprehensive guide covers the common questions and considerations around marrying someone who is incarcerated.

Overview of Marrying an Inmate

  • Marriage is generally allowed in U.S. prisons, though each state and facility has its own regulations.
  • Reasons inmates may want to marry include gaining visitation rights, conjugal visits, shared commissary funds, and inheritance rights.
  • The inmate or their fiancé must request permission from the warden or superintendent to marry. Background checks, fees, and other requirements may apply.
  • Most prisons only allow inmates to marry during incarceration. Some states require the marriage be dissolved if the inmate later divorces.
  • Ceremonies are held inside the prison and must follow guidelines on guests, attire, food, and other restrictions.
  • Same-sex marriages are usually allowed, but certain states or prisons may have prohibitions against it.

Requirements and Permission to Marry in Prison

Inmates who wish to get married must go through an application process to get approval from the prison warden or superintendent. Each state handles the marriage request differently. Here are some common requirements:

  • Background checks: A background check will likely be conducted on the inmate’s fiancé to look for criminal history or other red flags.
  • Permission forms: The couple must fill out marriage request forms and possibly consent forms to marry.
  • Age requirements: Inmates and their spouses must be of legal age to marry or have parental consent if underage. Some states require inmates to be at least 21 years old.
  • Residency: The intended spouse may need to be a resident of the same state as the prison for a certain period of time.
  • Prior marriages: Inmates must provide divorce decrees or death certificates from any prior marriages. Some prisons do not allow inmates with multiple divorces to marry again.
  • Fees: Prisons often charge administrative fees to request marriage, ranging from $10-$200 in most states. The couple must pay for costs of the ceremony as well.
  • Counseling: Some prisons require the couple to undergo counseling to make sure they are ready for marriage and aware of the restrictions.
  • Waiting periods: Even after approval, the marriage license may have a one to three week waiting period before the ceremony can take place.
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If permission is denied, the couple can file an appeal, but may face an uphill battle getting approval. The prison administration has broad discretion to forbid or annul any marriages they deem inappropriate.

Rules and Restrictions on Prison Weddings

Prison weddings must follow strict regulations set by corrections officials. Here are some typical limitations:

  • Guests: Most prisons restrict ceremonies to immediate family and a few special guests. Some only allow witnesses. Guest counts range from 4 to 10 people in most states. Children under a certain age may not be allowed.
  • Locations: Ceremonies must take place inside the prison facility. The couple cannot leave prison grounds to marry elsewhere. Some prisons have dedicated chapels or visiting rooms for weddings.
  • Physical Contact: The couple may be limited to brief, appropriate physical contact like a short kiss or holding hands. No prolonged contact or embraces are usually allowed.
  • Rings: The exchange of wedding rings is generally permitted during the ceremony. However, the ring must be added to the inmate’s property inventory and they may only wear it briefly for the wedding service.
  • Attire: Inmates must wear regular prison uniforms rather than civilian wedding attire. Some facilities provide slightly dressier uniforms for the occasion.
  • Food: Special wedding meals or cake may be allowed in some prisons. Food served must come from the prison kitchen.
  • Photography: Guests and prisoners are restricted on photos or videos during the ceremony due to prison security rules. Professional photographers may be prohibited.
  • Music: Some prisons allow small portable stereos or CD players for wedding music. Live musicians are generally prohibited. Song choices may be screened for inappropriate lyrics.

Benefits of Marrying an Inmate

The main advantages of marriage for an incarcerated person include:

  • Visitation rights: Spouses often get extended visiting hours and greater visiting privileges, including private family visits, trailer visits, or conjugal visits in some states.
  • Commissary funds: Married inmates can sometimes pool resources, like combining their prison commissary or trust accounts. Spouses can add money to an inmate’s account.
  • Property inheritance: Marrying gives inmates the legal right to inherit their spouse’s property if they pass away, subject to state laws.
  • Power of attorney: Spouses can make medical, legal, or financial decisions for their incarcerated partner by default.
  • Communication: Letters and phone communication between spouses may be given more privacy and privileges by prison staff.
  • Support system: Having a spouse on the outside can provide increased emotional support and strength to make it through incarceration.
  • After release: Being married can facilitate an inmate getting established with housing, employment, healthcare, and finances after release. A spouse provides instant family and support.
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Challenges of Marrying Someone in Prison

While marriage does have benefits, the realities of being incarcerated place immense strains on relationships. Potential pitfalls include:

  • Limited togetherness: In-person visitation may only be allowed a few hours per month, with rigid restrictions. Communication by phone or mail is difficult and lacking in privacy.
  • Stress and change: Inmates experience high stress in prison and often undergo major psychological changes that impact marriages. The confined environment magnifies problems.
  • Infidelity: With the partner on the outside, cheating or abandoning the relationship is a real risk. Few prisons offer divorce options.
  • Financial costs: With limited income, inmates often cannot equally provide for or support a spouse financially while incarcerated. Tight budgets can cause money conflicts.
  • Parenting difficulties: Incarcerated parents struggle to actively participate in raising children. The spouse shoulders a difficult solo parenting role.
  • Social stigma: The stigma of being married to a prisoner can affect the spouse’s reputation, employment, and community standing. Families may oppose the marriage.
  • Uncertain future: Release dates are not always guaranteed.Lengthy sentences put marriages at great risk for falling apart before reuniting. The average prison marriage only lasts around 4 years.

Conjugal and Extended Visitation for Married Inmates

One motivation to marry in prison is the potential for more intimate physical encounters. However, few states actually offer conjugal visits or private family visits:

  • Only 4 states — California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington — allow conjugal visits for married inmates. Even in these states, conjugals are limited to lower security prisons and must be earned through good behavior.
  • Around 18 states may offer some form of extended visits in private trailers or rooms where married couples can spend up to 72 hours together. Physical contact is still restricted for prison security.
  • Many more prisons provide slightly extended visit times for immediate family members only, but without privacy from guards or other inmates. Visits typically take place across tables in common visiting rooms.
  • Contact visits where inmates can embrace and hold hands with their spouses are highly limited. Only brief kisses and hugs are commonly allowed at the start and end of visitation sessions.
  • Some states, like Texas, Virginia, and Idaho, prohibit all intimate contact and overnight family visits, even for married inmates. Prisons in those states do still allow inmates to marry, but without possibility of conjugals.

Getting Married Shortly After Release

Another option is for inmates to postpone marriage until completing their sentence. By waiting, couples gain more freedom and control over their wedding details. Advantages include:

  • Being able to have a full traditional wedding ceremony at their desired location. Prison weddings are very limited in guests, attire, and other features.
  • Spending the first months of marriage together free without restrictions on physical intimacy or visitation.
  • Making marriage decisions with clarity of mind after transitioning back to normal life. Prison can psychologically affect judgment.
  • Lower risk of divorce or marriage strains. Around 95% of prison marriages end in divorce, while regular marriages have closer to a 50% divorce rate.
  • More time to be sure of compatibility for life after incarceration and assess changes undergone while in prison. Rushing to marry while inside may not always be prudent.
  • Letting any children or family impacted by the incarceration adjust to having the person home again before adding the major life change of marriage.
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Postponing marriage until release requires patience and commitment from both partners. But it often provides the healthiest start to marriage under less confined circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions About Prison Marriages

Can same-sex marriages occur in prison?

  • State and federal laws regarding same-sex marriage apply to inmates as well. These marriages are usually allowed in prisons today, but some facilities in more conservative states may still prohibit or discourage it.

Do both spouses have to consent to dissolve an inmate marriage?

  • Yes, both partners must consent and take legal action to divorce while incarcerated in most states. Some states will automatically annul the marriage if the couple separates after release.

Can an inmate marry someone else while still married from a previous prison marriage?

  • No, any prior existing marriages must be legally dissolved via divorce or annulment before marrying again, even from prison. Bigamy and multiple marriages are illegal.

What happens if a marriage takes place without proper prison approval and paperwork?

  • An inmate marriage that occurs without going through the proper administrative process is usually considered void or invalid. The legal status would be as if the marriage never existed.

Can marriage while incarcerated affect sentencing, parole, or probation?

  • Generally, no. Marriage status does not directly influence an inmate’s criminal case outcome. But positive family ties like marriage can sometimes positively factor into parole decisions.

Are prison staff allowed to marry inmates at their facility?

  • No. All correctional staff are prohibited from fraternizing with inmates at their facility. Becoming romantically or maritally involved would be cause for termination and disciplinary action.

Conclusion

Marriage between an inmate and a free citizen, while complicated, can still offer benefits and fulfill emotional needs. Each couple must weigh their own motivations, circumstances, and commitment to the relationship throughout incarceration. When successful, these marriages provide needed support during imprisonment and a lasting partnership after release. However, the many challenges of restrictions, costs, distance, and uncertainty must be realistically assessed. With open communication, patience, and resilience, marital love can survive despite the difficult confines of prison life.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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