In pandemic, Sumter sees more apply to be married

Judge says more than 800 licenses issued during 2020


After her plans to wear a white dress, gather with loved ones and cut into a beautiful cake crumbled last March, Nicole Ouellette has officially become Ouellette-Miles after marrying her husband almost a year after their planned wedding date.

Last year, the wedding industry took a tumble early on in the COVID-19 pandemic with postponed and canceled wedding dates across the nation. One of which was Ouellette-Miles'.

"We just got married on the 27th of March," she said. "It's nice to finally tie the knot after planning and preparing for almost two years."

She and her husband, Nathan, recently returned from their honeymoon on the "Forgotten Coast" of Florida on April 3.

The pair had been engaged for a year and a half with a planned wedding date of April 4, 2020, but the pandemic changed that within a couple weeks before the big day.

"I can't say it was frustrating that we postponed because we really had no choice," Ouellette-Miles said. "We just kind of rolled with the punches and dealt with it as it came."

Fortunately for the couple, they lucked out on postponing their wedding date without losing any money or vendors, but there were minor changes that needed to be done.

Ouellette-Miles had to find a new photographer, a new officiant and make other small adjustments, but the plus side was that there was not much replanning to do.

"It was good and bad," she said. "The good part was when we originally postponed, we were three weeks out from the original date. We were already practically ready to go, so everything was pretty much already planned."

The year gap also gave the couple time to relax, get to know each other better and even save money for some extra ideas for the ceremony.

"It gave us more time to save money for the honeymoon or put a little more towards food or something else that we didn't think of or unexpected expenses," Ouellette-Miles said. "It gave us a little more time."

The savings also helped the newlyweds pay for COVID-19 precautions that weren't in the original plans.

The two were expecting 170-180 guests to attend their original day last year, and 60-70% were going to be traveling to South Carolina from Maine, California and Florida.

Their wedding in March was much smaller with 60 people attending and the rest of their guests attending virtually on a live stream.

"That was pretty cool to offer that, and I think in this day and age, that's probably where some weddings may start taking that route or for elopements," Ouellette-Miles said. "Our guest list did drop a bit."

On top of offering a virtual wedding, COVID-19 measures were put in place with an outdoor wedding, masks provided and masked caterers and servers.

"We tried to put in as many COVID precautions as we could and still enjoy the day," Ouellette-Miles said, "and I think it turned out just as magical as it could have last year."

Although this Sumter couple waited to tie the knot until this year, Sumter County Probate Court reported an increase in marriage licenses last year.

According to Sumter County Probate Court Associate Judge Tess Duggan, they approved 830 marriage licenses in 2020. In 2019, they approved 651.

"It was strange how many people wanted to come in and get a marriage license last year. It was unusual," Duggan said. "It just varies from year to year sometimes."

Duggan thinks many waited to hold a ceremony this year but eloped last year. The Sumter County Probate Court was still approving marriage licenses during the shutdown.

"Basically, [that's] what we were doing while we were completely shut down," Duggan said, "they had to give us proof that their wedding was within a couple weeks."

Probate Court has also experienced an increase in marriage licenses this year that began to spike in March, when they had approved nearly 90 marriage licenses, Duggan said. The monthly average is usually about 40, and they've already done about 20 marriage licenses as of Wednesday.

"We did like three within 30 minutes this morning," Duggan said on Wednesday. "They've been coming in."