The stress of divorce brings out the worst in people. One case became so bitter, the husband actually took an ax to the house and demanded the wife tell him which half she wanted.
The only people that win in divorce are lawyers.
So now, I marry people.
Marrying couples allows me to see the love and happiness they begin their life together.
Plus, it’s a lot happier. And less stressful.
I’m 82 years old and being of Eastern European extraction, I just don’t know when to stop working. Funny how it all happened, really. In 2003, my son called me up and said he was going to get married but his fiancée was on a 90 day Visa… it needed to happen quickly. I told him to find a judge but he ended up coming across a marriage commissioner instead. I had never heard of such a thing! Fast forward a bit and my grandson was born. I had been commuting back and forth from New Jersey and I finally said, “Ah, to hell with work. I’m going to play with my grandson in Virginia. So I transferred my licenses and consulting business to Virginia and made it home.”
Five years ago, a contractor friend of mine was telling me about a wedding he had attended the weekend before and how incredible the marriage commissioner was. This marriage commissioner business had a funny way of popping up so I looked it up and reviewed the requirements. With my work in the courts in New Jersey, I felt confident I could take on the responsibility.
I gave it some good thought and began asking around. Truth be told, I heard some really horrible stories; people were having just terrible experiences. One of the problems was that no one had an actual facility to perform marriages. Someone in the local area marries couples in a windowless storage unit. People are either getting married in someone’s living room with fish frying in the background or a guy in an exterminator’s truck pulls up and you learn too late that he’s the one who’s marrying you.
Go to the courthouse on any given day and you’ll see guys standing on the corner marrying people in all kinds of weather. I recall one bride was wearing a backless dress in 20 degree cold with a marriage commissioner who was long winded. If I had to do it, I’d say, “Do you, James, take you, Mary? Okay, good! We’re done here!”
I’m the only full-time Marriage Commissioner on the Peninsula; that’s what makes me different. Everyone else is going to their day job and then this is just their side gig. I thought to myself, “There has to be a better way.” So I made a promise to fix that and give couples a more enjoyable start to their story.
I owned this property in Historic Hilton Village already (I did historical restoration up north) so I restored it. I hadn’t really expected anything, maybe one wedding a week to get me out of the house. At that time, all I did was put cards on the counter at the Hampton and Newport News courthouses and that started pulling in two to three jobs a week. It was January of 2012 when my website went live and I was flooded with calls.
I do an average of 300+ weddings a year, and I enjoy each one. I get to know the personalities of the couples and really make the experience special. A lot of my couples are young, military kids whose brides have traveled many miles to marry their love before he’s shipped out to some distant land. As an Air Force Veteran myself, I want to show my appreciation for their service, so I spend a while with them, chatting about what life and marriage can hold, and how to attain what they seek in life.
I always explain that I’m not a counselor, just an old man who has experienced a lot of life. I tell everyone, “Be kind to one another, have each other’s back, learn and practice compromise, and don’t be a mind reader...communicate! It’s that simple.” My experience is that understanding and compromise are important and “half a loaf is better than none”. I couldn’t learn those things from college or books- I had to learn it from life, from experiences.
This is a hurry up, disposable society we live in. I’d like people to understand that marriage begins with the joining of your hands which signifies the joining of your lives. You’re connected- today, tomorrow, throughout your marriage. Someone once said, “You never know when they walk out that door what their life is going to be like.”
Some days you get “Willie” who’s been with someone for 30 years, then gets married and wants a divorce 48 hours later. But other days you get the Navy Seal who’s deploying to Iraq and you just think about that couple a lot. I'm still friends with that couple, actually. I performed their small ceremony and when he returned from Iraq safely, I got the chance to perform what we call a “re-deux”; their big, second wedding! It’s all part of the bigger picture of what we offer here. We’re part of their stories and we do everything we can to offer what others can’t.
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