Rag Time is a bi-weekly media investigation of a single celebrity story that's vastly more in-depth than you ever thought you needed. This week: Brody Jenner and Kaitlynn Carter join a rash of celebrities seemingly uninterested with the legal aspect of marriage.
On June 2, 2018, erstwhile star of The Hills and current star of The Hills: New Beginnings Brody Jenner married his long-time girlfriend Kaitlynn Carter at the Nihi Sumba resort off the coast of Indonesia in front of God and an exclusive People magazine photographer. As has become the custom for reality star and influencer weddings, the couple shared all the details of their special, possibly sponsored day, to the tabloid. Jenner had his suit custom-made by STITCHED menswear boutique; the couple’s first dance was to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran; the reception had a “jungle feast” theme. “It was the most dreamy, incredible night ever,” Carter told People.
It was also not legally binding. Earlier this month, Page Six reported that Jenner and Carter had separated, and that they were never legally married in the first place. Despite referring to each other as husband and wife and selling their wedding to the tabloids and on Instagram, the couple never made their partnership legal when they returned to LA. Jenner’s Hills co-star Spencer Pratt speculated in an interview that Jenner did not want Carter to have access to his mother Linda Thompson’s money. (An actress and songwriter, Thompson herself was previously married to Caitlyn, then Bruce, Jenner and celebrity composer David Foster, with whom she wrote the Whitney Houston classic “I Have Nothing.”) The couple has not commented on that particular claim, but their rep confirmed the breakup with this statement: “Brody Jenner & Kaitlynn Carter have decided to amicably separate. They love and respect one another, and know that this is the best decision for their relationship moving forward.”
This fake wedding business is, perhaps predictably, becoming something of a trend among reality stars and influencers. In July, former NSYNC member Lance Bass revealed on a podcast that the 2016 wedding of Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Schwartz and Katie Maloney was not legally binding, despite the fact that the couple filmed an extravagant “woodsy elegance” themed wedding for the show. (They reportedly obtained a marriage license in Las Vegas last month and plan to make their relationship official next season.) After YouTube sensations Tana Mongeau and Jake Paul married in a dramatic, live-streamed Vegas ceremony earlier this month, Mongeau casually admitted in a video that the couple never filed for a marriage license. “I wouldn’t want to do it on paper because I think legally binding yourself to someone takes away the love,” she said.
But reality stars and influencers are not the only celebrities caught up in fake wedding scandals. Celebrated actress Geena Davis was forced to admit in a deposition this month that her 2001 wedding to Reza Jarrahy was not legally binding, despite the fact that she talked up the marriage on The Oprah Winfrey Show at the time. (Davis is reportedly attempting to deny Jarrahy’s request for spousal support in their messy split by arguing that they were never really married.)
Another A-lister who may not have made her most recent marriage legal? Jennifer Aniston. When she split from husband Justin Theroux last year, TMZ reported that there was “NO EVIDENCE THEY WERE EVER MARRIED.” The gossip site found that the couple never filed for a marriage license in LA County before their 2015 wedding (though it should be noted that they also had a home in New York), and sources close to Aniston said “there's been talk for a long time they might not be legally married.” Aniston and Theroux have never commented on the claims, but there has also been no indication that either party has hired a divorce attorney—something that TMZ would pick up on immediately.
As fewer non-famous people are getting married across the country, and marriage becomes more and more an “achievement of status” for the wealthy and highly educated, it almost makes sense that celebrities would want the appearance of a wedding without the potential downsides of a legally binding contract. How did we get to this point? And how many more celebrities will get the opportunity to fake a wedding before the public starts catching on? Let’s discuss.
The rise of the sponsored wedding
Weddings have always been a reliable way for celebrities to get positive attention from the public, but with the explosion of influencer culture in the last five years, they are now extremely easy to monetize. Take former Glee actress Lea Michele, for example: Her by-all-accounts legal wedding to a clothing designer named Zandy Reich this year was in the tabloids for months, thanks to her sponsorship with Zola, a wedding planning site. (She also appeared in several commercials for the brand.) People exclusively covered the couple’s March wedding, noting that Michele’s dress was Monique Lhullier, her hair was styled using the Beachwaver Pro 1.25 curling iron, and the couple’s wedding rings were designed by XIV Karats. This is the norm now: Every aspect of a celebrity wedding has the potential to be gifted and/or sponsored, making the endeavor all the more attractive to lower-tier stars hoping to get their names out there and establish themselves as influencers. Everyone from Kim Kardashian all the way down to the Goop “influencer” with a few thousand followers has tried to exploit this model, and it is not always easy to distinguish between who is getting paid and who is just sharing all the nitty gritty details of their wedding with magazines to show off. (See: every wedding featured in Vogue.)
If you look back at Brody Jenner and Kaitlynn Carter’s Instagrams from their Indonesian “wedding,” it is clear they made some kind of arrangement with the Nihi Sumba resort; both posted commercial videos of the property after the wedding with almost-identical captions thanking the owners for their hospitality and plugging the resort as the “#1 Hotel in the World!” Jenner and Carter did not use the FTC-required hashtag #ad anywhere in their posts—that wouldn’t be very romantic—but it does not seem like they were thanking the resort in an organic way.
Maloney and Schwartz, too, made the most of their non-legal wedding in 2016: They filmed the entire planning process and wedding day for Vanderpump Rules, making them the focus of the show that season. And after the wedding, Maloney made sure to prominently thank her dress designer on Instagram. "So I married my best friend and I couldn't be happier! #twobubbs @twschwa and couldn't have felt more special in my @zuhairmuradofficial gown that I got from the one and only @kleinfeldbridal,” she wrote.
Neither couple has faced much blowback for putting on these events—only slightly raised eyebrows. In the case of Maloney and Schwartz, it sounds like they will get another reality show storyline out of their attempt to make their union legal in Vegas. Carter and Jenner, meanwhile, have ensured that The Hills: New Beginnings will continue on for a second season. (Possibly featuring Miley Cyrus.) Spencer Pratt, as mentioned above, has already weighed in on the drama, as has cast member Brandon Thomas Lee. Jenner and Carter’s split will likely provide more reality show fodder than a regular old divorce would.
What about the A-list?
To a C-list reality star or influencer, the benefits of faking a wedding are clear: positive tabloid attention, cash, maybe even a free honeymoon. But why would an A-list star go to the trouble of putting on a non-legal wedding? They don’t need the money or the extra attention—the tabloids cover them whether they like it or not. They might, however, be motivated to keep their finances legally separate from their partner, even if they love them very much. Celebrity divorces are notoriously complex and can take years to finalize (see: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). It might be easier, then, for the uber-wealthy to commit to each other in their hearts and not necessarily on paper.
But there are many benefits to having a big, A-list wedding. While a luxurious public wedding can make a C-lister’s lifestyle seem aspirational, paradoxically, the same kind of event can make an A-lister more relatable. There are so many aspects of a famous person’s life that remain inscrutable to the average People magazine reader, but everyone understands a love story. This is why Oscar-winning actresses like Reese Witherspoon put their (again, by all accounts legal) weddings on the cover of People—to reach out to their fans perusing the tabloids in the grocery store aisle. (Witherspoon’s 2011 wedding to CAA agent Jim Toth made the cover of People and the U.K.’s Hello magazine; she founded her lifestyle brand Draper James two years later.)
In the case of Jennifer Aniston, she may have decided to go through with her wedding to Theroux to give the tabloids an understandable narrative about her personal life. For years after her 2005 divorce from Brad Pitt, People, Us Weekly, et. al. routinely predicted she was getting married or pregnant with various paramours, and the public seemed to want to see her in a happy, committed relationship, despite all her protestations that either way, she was just fine. So if her 2015 backyard ceremony wasn’t legal? Well, it made people happy. And no one has pressed her for a marriage license since.
Celebrities of all stripes will probably have to be careful planning their ceremonies in the future, however: Since reporting on Aniston’s marriage license last year, TMZ has been quick to note when celebrities do and do not file for them ahead of their weddings. In reporting on Kaitlynn Carter’s new relationship with Miley Cyrus, for example, the gossip site noted that Cyrus and her estranged husband Liam Hemsworth did get a marriage license in Tennessee before their wedding last year, meaning their union was legal and will need to be officially dissolved in the court system.
Going forward, it may be difficult for stars to have a big, extravagant wedding without the public wondering if they've gone to city hall first. There’s always the option to get engaged and just not follow through with it, though.
Got a tip about this or any other celebrity mysteries? Email Allie at email@example.com, or contact her on Twitter .
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.