District Judge Hanley keeps busy with weddings in Greenfield courtroom
There was no cake, wedding dress, flower girl or ring bearer.
The couple walked in, asked the secretary if they were in the right place, and — following an exchange of rings, a kiss and a few words from District Judge James Hanley Jr. — they were legally bound to each other.
Hanley's office, tucked under an ethnic grocery store off Murray Avenue in Greenfield, presided over 77 marriages last year — more than any other judge in Allegheny County in 2013.
There are many reasons couples opt for a district judge rather than a traditional ceremony, wedding experts and judges said. Some plan to have a reception but are getting married out of expediency; some couples are on their second or third marriages and don't want to make a big to-do. Others use money they would have spent on a wedding as a down payment on a house. Some have destination weddings planned but marry in Pennsylvania to avoid dealing with foreign laws.
Other times, a prospective bride and groom get hitched because of pregnancy or for medical insurance coverage or other legal reasons.
Several couples who agreed to talk about their magistrate weddings declined to be identified, citing “legal reasons” or saying they hadn't yet told their families.
“I don't know why people seem to come to me. I don't know whether it's our location geographically or our placement in the phone book,” said Hanley, a judge for two decades whose usual day includes mediating landlord-tenant disputes and enforcing traffic citations.
“But I like it,” he said of the weddings. “It's nice to have people who actually want to be here.”
Allegheny County issues about 6,000 marriage licenses a year, according to the Department of Court Records, although religious officials officiate most weddings.
“The ceremony is basic. It's kind of simple, but it's one of the best things we do,” said Crafton District Judge Dennis Joyce. “It's better than putting people in jail, that's for sure.”
Kyle Brown, executive director of the Bridal Association of America in Bakersfield, Calif., estimates that roughly 30 percent of couples have small, intimate weddings because of economic reasons. The average cost of an American wedding is $26,000, according to The Wedding Report, a Tucson-based wedding research company.
“It's not that they don't love each other or they weren't going to get married eventually, but that's the reason they're getting married now instead of later,” Brown said. “A lot of times they don't want the world to know they got married for insurance reasons.”
Penn Hills District Judge Leonard Hromyak, who officiated at 62 ceremonies in 2013, said he usually can tell when a couple marries for economic reasons or when “love is in the air.”
“The enthusiasm is better when there's a certain twinkle in their eyes,” said Hromyak, who officiated at nearly 750 marriages since 1999.
Judges recalled stories about couples they have married throughout the years. There was the man who walked out on his bride-to-be but returned a few minutes before taking the plunge. There was a prospective groom left stranded in the waiting room, and a woman who called Hromyak two days after her wedding to ask about annulments.
At a ceremony this month, Hanley asked the couple if they planned to go out afterward. The couple looked at each other and smiled.
“No,” the bride said. “We're just going back to work.”
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.