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1.19.23

Ask the Expert: Brian Patrick Hall

Brian Patrick Hall bears witness to the value of hiring a justice of the peace.

Whether you’re planning an extravagant wedding or eloping with an intimate ceremony, the one nonnegotiable every couple needs in order to get married is someone to marry them. This could be a member of the clergy, a loved one with a one-day marriage designation, or a justice of the peace. Here, Brian Patrick Hall explains the role of a justice of the peace and gives a glimpse into why it’s important to have an officiant to make it, well…official!

What does a justice of the peace do?

Here in Massachusetts, justices of the peace are public officials called on to solemnize marriages. A justice of the peace has the same general oath-giving powers as a notary public, and we are also empowered to issue certain writs.

Why did you become a justice of the peace and when did you start officiating?

I did my first ceremony back in 2018 for two of my close friends down in Jupiter, Florida. Three years later, another friend asked me to perform their ceremony, and that’s when I decided to look into becoming a justice of the peace to make it a more regular job. I figured if my friends and family members wanted me to be such a large part of these special moments, I should explore this opportunity more and offer my services to everyone on the Island.

How does one become a justice of the peace in Massachusetts? And how long does the designation last?

For me, it took some effort. I knew that the [justice of the peace] in West Tisbury, John Alley, had passed away [in 2020], so there was possibly an opening. So, in an attempt to find out who held the positions in West Tisbury, I called the governor’s office, who then sent me to the secretary of state’s office, then they pushed me to the governor’s council, and then back to each office a few more times.

Turns out the commonwealth had no clue that John had passed! You submit your application, it gets brought in front of the governor and his council, then voted on. The process took about six months, and the term lasts seven years.

How many wedding ceremonies have you officiated?

I have officiated twelve weddings so far.

Why would a couple hire a justice of the peace over a member of the clergy or a family/friend with a one-day designation from the state?

Oftentimes a couple will want a secular ceremony, so they’ll hire a justice of the peace. Or often, interfaith couples opt to hire a justice of the peace to perform a civil marriage ceremony. With same-sex marriages, sometimes certain religious officials are not willing to oversee and perform a ceremony.

A justice of the peace would also be hired if the couple was eloping to Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding and they didn’t have a friend or family member to perform the ceremony for them here (you do not need a witness in Massachusetts if a justice of the peace is marrying you). If a couple wants to get married, we are the people for the job!

How soon should a newly engaged couple contact you to hire you for a wedding?

In reality, I love being prepared with the most amount of time possible (think: six months to a year notice). The more notice I have, the more time I have to talk to the couple and understand how they want their ceremony to run. It’s their big day, not mine!

But I do acknowledge that that’s not always how life works, so if a couple is doing a last-minute elopement, that’s also something I can work with. I’ve had less than a week’s notice before, and over six months, and each ceremony has been really special and unique.

Are couples able to personalize the ceremony or is there a standard script you stick to? If they can personalize, how many pre-wedding sessions do you have with them?

I’m pretty flexible in that area. If a couple doesn’t have any requests, I have my scripts that I use. But, if they want it personalized, I’m more than happy to accommodate. I like to chat with the couple at least twice prior to the big day, but my phone is always on to keep the communication open.

How would you describe your officiating style?

I’d like to describe my style as lighthearted and personable but firm. It’s a great undertaking and responsibility, getting married. I remind couples of that, but in a friendly way and manner.

How long do your ceremonies usually last?

This depends on what the couple wants. I have performed ceremonies that last five minutes and twenty minutes. It all depends on the ceremony and, most importantly, the couple.

Do you help couples obtain their marriage license?

I hand-deliver or mail the marriage license back to the town it was issued in after the ceremony, but the couple needs to obtain the license itself.

Do you have a backup to step in if necessary?

I do! I am lucky. This is a small Island, and I am friends with other justices of the peace: Colleen Morris in Oak Bluffs and Collette Jordan in Edgartown. If one of us is not able to perform a ceremony, we do our best to fill in and recommend one another.

Do you offer different packages and fee structures for officiating a wedding?

Every situation is different. The only pay structure requirement on-Island is that if the ceremony is performed in West Tisbury, a justice of the peace can only charge $125, which is a standard minimum and my starting flat rate. For now, with weddings on Martha’s Vineyard, I don’t charge more than $225.

I’m a history buff, and there’s a historical value to the position of justice of the peace: the title goes back to the year of 1361. For me, it’s a civic duty, and it’s an honor to be a justice of the peace. Gouging people on the price is the last thing I want to be remembered for. I want to give the couple the best ceremony I can, not for intrinsic value, but because it feels good.

Do you attend the rehearsal?

If invited, I am more than happy to attend the rehearsal.

What has been the most memorable wedding you have officiated and why?

My first ceremony in 2018 was pretty memorable. I was fourteen days out of throat surgery, and it was for two friends I consider family. It was far from perfect, but it was beautiful, and a great learning experience.

I have a wedding coming up at the end of December (2022) that I am really excited to perform. For the past seventeen years I have been a head coach for youth lacrosse on the Island, and a young man I had the pleasure of mentoring reached out and asked me to perform their ceremony.

I know that just like the others I have performed, my next wedding will be a ceremony I’ll never forget.

For more information on services or to hire Brian Patrick Hall as justice of the peace for your ceremony, contact him at MVJP42@gmail.com or 508-566-2698.