News & Politics

You Can Get Divorced—but Not Married—in DC During a Government Shutdown

There will be a pause on marriage licenses and judge officiations.

Photograph by Kaspars Grinvalds/

As an impending government shutdown looms, we’ve once again begun taking stock of all the ways this might affect people who live here in DC (besides, of course, the obvious pause in critical income for employees on furlough, the potential compromise to national security, and so on).

One detail that caught our attention: during a government shutdown, people in DC can get divorced, but they cannot get married. Turns out the explanation is pretty simple: while both technically fall under different offices of the “Family Court” umbrella of the Superior Court, most family court branches—including Domestic Relations, which handles custody, visitation, and yes, divorce—will remain open for now. Meanwhile, the Marriage License Bureau will close. In addition, DC judges will not be able to officiate weddings during a shutdown.

For folks looking to get married in the next few days or weeks (or however long this shutdown persists), here are some workarounds to consider: First, get your marriage license now—or at least by Friday. There’s no expiration date for the licenses. If you were planning to have a DC judge perform your ceremony, make plans to have a loved one do it instead, or, as DC allows, officiate it yourselves.

Of course, the interruption is specific to marriages in the District, where the licensing bureau is tied to federal funding. Wedding licensing in Maryland and Virginia will continue as usual.

Amy Moeller
Fashion & Weddings Editor

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.