Frequently Asked Questions
Is Tom Armstrong a real judge – or did he just get a certificate on the Internet?
Yes, Virginia, Judge Tom Armstrong is a real judge. He was first elected as a Washington County Judge in 1980 at age 33, when he ran against an incumbent judge. The Minnesota Supreme Court didn’t like this. They like judges to be political appointees selected by governors – not by the voters. Oh well, you can’t please everyone – sometimes by ballots Democracy gets to win.
Tom was reelected four times as a District Judge, and he retired on January 3rd, 2011, after 30 years of elected service. Retired Judges can perform weddings – and that is all the judicial work he wants to do. No more criminal trials, traffic court, conciliation court, juvenile court, divorces, and other sad, bad and mad cases. In retirement he only performs marriages for happy couples. Thirty years of court cases, sadness, problems and turmoil was enough for his lifetime.
What should we call him?
“Tom” is just fine. Remember – no more courtroom work – so “Tom” is what he likes to hear. Tom is working to help you with your wedding ceremony and to make it a memorable day.
Can Tom perform weddings in Wisconsin?
No. As a retired Minnesota Judge, he can only perform weddings in Minnesota.
What Services does Tom Provide?
Helps you create your ceremony. Every word in your wedding ceremony should be your choice. You can select ceremony wording from the website library and samples, write your own vows, get wording from other sources, etc. Tom then takes your selections and puts everything in his formatting. Then he sends it back to you with any questions or comments. You can download a Completed Ceremony Sample by clicking on Sample Ceremony on this Welcome page. Designing a ceremony is best done over time, back-and-forth with e-mail and by phone. It’s not something that can be done at a meeting.
Here is a 2010 e-mail from a Bride.
“When my sister got married, the Judge just came to her on the day of her wedding and asked her to pick out of 2 ceremonies which one she wanted. We like that we can have our ceremony just how we want it and your website works perfect for people like us!”
Performs your ceremony. Tom will perform your ceremony at a location you select. To see what other couples have to say about his services, click the References button to see some of the Thank You letters that he has received. For information on Rehearsals see that question below and also click on the Rehearsal button. All officiants charge extra to lead a rehearsal. You can do your own Rehearsal. Click on the Rehearsal button for step-by-step details.
Provide advice. You can call or e-mail Tom Armstrong with questions. He has performed just over 4100 ceremonies and has seen almost everything. He can tell you what problems to watch out for, what works well, and what to avoid. You will have the full benefit of Tom’s experience. A wedding isn’t something you want to get good at – it took about 500 weddings before Tom was a qualified expert. You don’t want to have that much experience at getting married.
Help with the ceremony details. When Tom arrives, he talks to everyone involved in the ceremony – the wedding party, readers, musicians, DJ, etc. He makes sure everyone knows what to do and when to do it. He takes a very active part in assuring that everyone and everything is ready and that all goes well.
Complete and file your Marriage Certificate. Tom will complete your Marriage Certificate and get all the necessary signatures. Usually he gets the signatures before the ceremony, but sometimes it can be done after the ceremony. He then files the original Marriage Certificate with the county where you purchased it. The Officiant is required by law to keep the Marriage License. He will then send you copies of the Marriage License and the original Marriage Certificate with full information about what to do for name changes. Click on the Name Change button for more information.
Renewal of Vows
Judge Armstrong performs renewal ceremonies. In the Ceremony Library there is a section about Reaffirmation and Renewal ceremonies.
The cost for a Renewal of Vows ceremony is the same as a marriage ceremony. Judge Armstrong will present the couple with a Certificate memorializing their Vow Renewal.
A Renewal Ceremony is a gift to family and friends and to each other from the Bride and Groom. It’s a great way to celebrate an anniversary.
Meeting in Person
Can we line up several Officiants for meetings and then let them know if we want to book a certain one?
First check their References to read what other couples have to say. The best Officiants get many more calls for weddings than they can perform. It’s best to interview an Officiant by phone – you get to hear his or her voice – important for any wedding. His or her personality should be friendly, kind and flexible. See the References button to find out what other couples say about Judge Armstrong.
Tom will perform marriages at any location all over the Twin City area and a short distance beyond. Weddings can be held at homes, apartment recreation rooms, parks, reception sites, ceremony sites like the Como Conservatory and the Fort Snelling Chapel, excursion boats, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, churches, country clubs, etc.
Time of Ceremonies
Tom is retired and will perform ceremonies anytime, on weekends, holidays, and on weekdays. If Tom is on vacation, or otherwise unavailable, on the date of your wedding, he can refer you to a Judge who is qualified and available. All Judges are not created equal – some are real jerks – Tom only refers you to the best – nice people that he trusts.
It’s important to select an exact time and to have the ceremony start within a few minutes of the time on the invitation. Guests don’t want to wait. If you change the time, inform Judge Armstrong immediately.
As of January 2013, the basic fee of most Officiants is $300.00. Outside the metro area there may be an additional charge for the distance. For instance a fee for a ceremony performed in Red Wing would be $400.00, because of the distance and the extra time. The boats on Lake Minnetonka would be $350.00. Rehearsals can be an additional $250.00 in the metro area, and extra depending on the distance outside the metro area. Rehearsals on a Friday evening or on a weekend are $300.00 – the same as a wedding.
Deposit – Contract
Judge Armstrong requires a minimum $50.00 deposit to hold the date. The deposit is not refundable. The deposit is a credit on the fee, and the balance of the fee can be paid at the ceremony or mailed before – however you would like.
Judge Armstrong doesn’t have a special contract form. The e-mails, your deposit, and Tom’s e-mail commitment are the contract. This has always worked well.
Tom can lead your rehearsal, but there is always an additional charge. The extra time involved is like performing two weddings. If the rehearsal is on a Friday evening, Saturday, or Sunday, the fee would be $300.00. Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays are prime times for weddings and therefore Tom Armstrong charges more for a rehearsal on those days. Other times the fee would be $250.00. Click on the Rehearsal button for more information. You can do the rehearsal yourself. Judge Armstrong can answer your questions by phone – there no extra change for his advice – that’s part of his job.
Once you have selected the ceremony wording and have finalized it, he doesn’t need to be there for the rehearsal. A rehearsal is a good thing for the wedding party, but an experienced Officiant doesn’t need a rehearsal. He is the first to walk out and the last to leave. Click on the Rehearsal button on the home page for detailed information.
You should find a friend or relative, who is not in the wedding party to act as a coordinator or personal attendant. You need someone who can act like a Sergeant Major when she needs to get everyone organized and lined up. You could have a man as the coordinator, but it may be better to have a woman. The coordinator can take care of flowers, dress problems, etc. – things that are not within the job description of most males.
Judge Armstrong gets the ceremony ready in advance based upon your selections. There will be lines for instructions. The Bride hands her flowers to the Maid of Honor. The Best Man hands the Bride’s ring to the Groom, etc. Click on a Sample Ceremony to see how a completed ceremony looks. The coordinator stands in the Judge’s place for the rehearsal with the ceremony in hand. She runs through the Processional and Recessional with everyone two or three times.
At the rehearsal, when everyone is up front, the coordinator goes through the movements. Judge Armstrong will say this and then you pass your flowers, etc. There is no need to go through the ceremony word-for-word – just the movements – passing rings, passing flowers, lighting the unity candle, presenting flowers to parents, readers – where they will stand, etc. Once everything is worked out at the rehearsal you have a trained coordinator who knows everyone and can run the ceremony on the day of the wedding. The coordinator should be responsible for the flowers, candles, lining everyone up, giving the word to start, etc. Too often the Bride has these responsibilities and you have to get yourself ready. Tom will be there early to go over details, talk through the ceremony with everyone who has a part, and get the Marriage Certificate signed in advance.
You can download a Sample Ceremony format and detailed Rehearsal information on the Welcome Page. If you have questions you should call or e-mail Tom. He can tell you ten different ways to do each part of the ceremony. There have been several ceremonies with the family dog as the ring bearer. Once a ceremony had an 82 year-old ring bearer – the Bride’s Grandfather, another had a 23 year-old flower girl, etc. Tom knows all the options for the Processional, Recessional, Unity Candles, and every part of a ceremony.
With the written ceremony ready in advance, a strong willed coordinator, and a rehearsal and/or a talk through just before for the wedding party, all will go well.
A double wedding, two brothers as Grooms. or two sisters as Brides, can get complex. Judge Armstrong has done five of these double weddings and has more information which is not shown on the website. E-mail Tom for this information if you are planning a double wedding.
Ceremony – the Legal Requirements
Sometime during the ceremony the Bride and Groom must make a verbal indication that they would like to be married and then Judge Armstrong says they are married. All the words are your choice. Rings, etc. are all traditions and all your choice. For the simplest legal ceremony, click on Nine Sample Ceremonies in the Ceremony Library and find Marriage Ceremony No. 9.
Tom has performed a wedding where the couple was deaf and also unable to speak. A relative signed to them. A smile and a nod was enough to convince the Judge they wanted to be married. The Bride’s wedding dress and the Groom’s tuxedo also led him to believe that this was their intention that day.
What do we need to bring to the wedding?
Bring the Marriage License and all the papers and return envelope that came with the license. You also need two witnesses who are at least 16 years old. Now and then, couples forget the marriage license at home. There doesn’t need to be any delay in the ceremony. Judge Armstrong can complete the Marriage Certificate by mail after the ceremony, but it’s much easier to do it that day. The ceremony is what makes you married. A delay in the papers doesn’t delay the moment of your marriage.
One inflexible officiant, a Ramsey County Judge, (not on Judge Armstrong’s referral list), delayed a wedding 90 minutes while a family member drove 45 minutes each way to get the forgotten marriage license papers. It was at the Como Park Conservatory, which only has 90-minute time slots. The Como staff are good people and they stayed open later to accommodate the couple. You don’t want an inflexible officiant. Tom is a problem solver – not a problem maker.
Can we choose our ceremony?
Yes – every word should be your choice. Judge Armstrong’s website will give you ceremony information and choices. Everything listed on the Welcome page was put there to help you with your wedding ceremony.
You can write your own ceremony, get material from any source, change the samples to whatever you like, cut and paste, change the words, etc. The Internet is full of sites that offer help with ceremonies. Just Google “wedding ceremonies” or “marriage ceremonies” and you will have thousands of sites.
Tom will take whatever you send him and put it into his formatting. He uses the same formatting for every wedding because it’s easier for him if all the headings, spacing, type font and size, etc. are the same. But you don’t have to worry about that. Just send Judge Armstrong what you would like in rough form and he will format it. If he sees a problem – like a Unity Candle outside – he will note it to you and suggest hurricane lamps for each candle. If you forget something – like a Pronouncement or Introduction – he will suggest wording – or note the heading with ?????. As long as the minimal legal requirements are met, the ceremony should be 100% your choice.
Can the ceremony be religious?
Yes. There are prayers, scripture passages, etc. in the Ceremony Library. Judge Armstrong performs ceremonies with prayers, Bible passages and religious references. You can have Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and civil wording in your ceremony – all mixed together, as you wish, – you pick every word of your ceremony.
Can we have a religious co-officiant?
Judge Armstrong has conducted ceremonies with a religious co-officiant. The other officiant was not authorized to perform the legal ceremony, so Tom did the legal part and the religious officiant did the rest. In one case it was a Catholic Priest. The Groom had been divorced and had not yet obtained an annulment from the Church. The Priest said prayers and Judge Armstrong did the marriage. In another ceremony the Groom’s brother was in Divinity School, but was not yet ordained as a Minister. Judge Armstrong just did the Vows and the Pronouncement – and the Groom’s brother did the rest of the ceremony.
Tom has also done a short separate ceremony at the ceremony site before the wedding. The couple were legally married by Judge Armstrong first, the Marriage Certificate was signed, and then another person performed the wedding ceremony with all the guests watching. The guests were none the wiser. Guests never check the credentials of the “officiant.”
Tom has even performed a marriage where the couple thought the minister was authorized to marry them. He had not filed his credential in Minnesota, and their October wedding was not valid. In January, before their marriage license expired – six months in Minnesota – Tom married them for real in their living room.
When do you need our ceremony selections?
If there is time, it’s good to have the ceremony completed a couple of months in advance. You will have many last minute requirements for your wedding and the ceremony wording can be completed early. It’s never too early. Some couples have had ceremonies ready a year in advance.
For your sanity get your selections to Judge Armstrong as early as possible. You shouldn’t be picking out the ceremony the day before the wedding. E-mail always works best for sending your selections. Some couples just send numbers – Welcome #4, Convocation from Sample Ceremony #6, Vows #12, Ring Exchange #16, etc. Judge Armstrong can cut and paste these all together and then send it back for your approval.
Rules for Photographers
Judge Armstrong has no rules for photographers. It’s your wedding. You make all the rules. Many photographers have talked about ceremony officiants who have strict rules and limitations about taking pictures during the ceremony. Tom is not on any power trip. It’s not his place to set limits on the photographer. The couple sets the rules. Judge Armstrong is just there to perform the ceremony – not to irritate anyone.
What do you wear at the wedding?
Judge Armstrong wears a dark business suit with a red tie. Years ago he happened to wear a red tie to a ceremony for a Chinese couple. They were very happy because in their tradition red means good luck. Since then he has always worn a red colored tie. You can’t have enough good luck.
Do you have a backup in case of emergencies?
Judge Armstrong knows other Judges – competent, nice, friendly judges – and they do back each other up.
What if your schedule changes?
This has only happened with several months notice. Tom will find a replacement if that happens. See above – “competent, nice, friendly judges.”
What about a theme wedding?
Military, Renaissance, Country Western, 1930s, etc.
There are all types of weddings. Judge Armstrong has detailed experience with Military Weddings, the Renaissance Festival, Hawaiian themed ceremonies, County Western, with the Bride dressed in blue gingham and everyone wearing cowboy hats, a hot air balloon wedding with the couple in the basket and taking off once the ceremony was over – like the Wizard of Oz. The 1930’s wedding had Groomsmen who looked like Mobsters. They were only missing their violin cases with a Thompson submachine gun inside. It was at the Caves of Wabasha – once an actual hangout for 1930’s mobsters.
What about a surprise wedding?
Judge Armstrong has done five ceremonies where the guests didn’t know it was a wedding until the announcement was made and the ceremony began. Judge Armstrong wore a t-shirt and blue jeans to one so no one would be tipped off by a suit and tie. The Bride and Groom momentarily disappeared to change and then reappeared in a bridal gown and tuxedo. Judge Armstrong took out a black robe from a brown paper bag and began the ceremony to cheers and applause.
He has performed two surprise weddings at Halloween parties. At one the Bride and Groom were dressed as a Bride and Groom – except he was the Bride, in a white dress a little small for him, and she was the Groom, in a nice rented tuxedo. (Yes, even at this wedding the Bride was better dressed than the Groom.) Some of the people didn’t have a costume and Judge Armstrong came in a suit – saying he came as an insurance salesman. It was outside in a backyard and everyone stood on the back deck while the guests, a couple feet below, were told it was a real wedding ceremony. The Groom was the roughest looking “bride” ever married – he hadn’t shaved in days and his bridal gown did not enhance his appearance. He over-flowed out of his dress in all the wrong places.
Tom once did a wedding that was a surprise on the Bride. The couple had purchased the marriage license and hadn’t set a date yet. The Groom and Judge Armstrong showed up at her work place on her birthday. It was break time and the Bride, with twenty co-workers, was about to cut her birthday cake. The Groom knew his girl and she was delighted. Think of all the planning and expense you could save. The Groom could also save money each year by giving his wife a combined birthday/anniversary present instead of two separate gifts. Don’t try this at home.
If possible, have a backup indoor site at the same location. You can then decide inside or outside on the day of the ceremony and the guests come to that location regardless of the weather. If the outside location has no indoor backup, you should have a large canopy – then you know it will work – rain or shine. If the day is hot and sunny you also have protection from the sun.
Once there was a ceremony in a large backyard with a heavy rain falling. The rented chairs with stuffed seats were too soaked to be used. All the guests stood with umbrellas and the Best Man held a large umbrella over the Bride and Groom. There were two large tents, but those had the tables for the reception. It worked. Plan for rain just in case. Some couples have had rented umbrellas in case of rain.
What about an outside ceremony location with a separate backup location in case of rain?
Having two locations for a ceremony can be an invitation to disaster. Once upon a wedding, the couple had an outside location and the backup was at the reception site ten miles away. The invitation said both locations at the same time – one if the weather was good and one if it was raining. What if it’s not a sunny day, but overcast with a threat of possible rain – one of those 50-60% chance of rain days? What if it is raining in the south metro and just cloudy in the north metro area? When there is a threat of rain, no one is sure where to go. There is no way to contact all the guests.
With one rained out wedding the ceremony started 90 minutes late at the reception site. The invitation only listed the outside site for the ceremony. It had been raining hard all day and the guests went to the outside location – over twelve miles away in Eagan. A groomsman had to be stationed there to direct people to the downtown St. Paul reception site.
A wedding in October had rain and temperature as potential problems. The string trio wouldn’t play if it was wet or below a certain temperature – 60 degrees. The invitation said it was either the Regional Park in Lake Elmo or a downtown St. Paul reception site over ten miles apart. It was too complex of an arrangement. The cold weather drove it inside, but many of the guests didn’t make it to the ceremony until it was over. You can imagine how happy they were to go to the park, and then find out it was too cold, and then they had drive to downtown St. Paul.
Keep it simple. Two separate locations on an invitation doesn’t work. A back-up site miles away doesn’t work. Don’t ruin your day with bad planning.
Invitations and Flowers
Should the couple give Judge Armstrong a flower to wear – a boutonniere of some sort?
It’s up to you. About 90% of the time the officiant doesn’t get a flower.
Do couples send an invitation to Judge Armstrong to join them for dinner after the ceremony and/or to attend the reception?
There is no need to send an invitation to Tom – but parking passes are always appreciated if one is going to each guest. Tom’s wife, Jeanne, and their three boys expect him to come home after the ceremony – and most times bring pizza. So – don’t invite Judge Armstrong to a nice dinner – he will be having pizza.
It’s 12 hours of classes that will save $75.00 on your license fee – reducing the fee from $115.00 to $40.00. The cost of the counseling is probably more than that. These web sites should have information on counseling. Twin City Bridal at www.twincitybridal.com - the Wedding Guide at www.mspwedguide.com – www.beforeyourweddingday.com Also try www.theknot.com and www.mywedding.com for counseling information.
There is a chat room at www.theknot.com where you can ask for information and get advice from other couples. There is also a marital counseling website called Prepare-Enrich at www.prepare-enrich.com that has lists of counselors qualified in their program. That site also has a couple’s quiz that you can take which has some thoughtful questions.
There is a link for the reduced fee form on the Washington County website. www.co.washington.mn.us You will need to navigate through the site to find the reduced fee form with Marriage Licenses.
All counties have a reduced fee form. The county websites are all at www.co.(county’s name).mn.us – Just put in the name of the county and once you get to that county’s website follow the site to marriage licenses.
E-mail Tom Armstrong at Tom@tgarmstrong.com