The Gallatin News
Tennessee Legal: Getttin' Hitched
“I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They've experienced pain and bought jewelry.” ~Rita Rudner, American comedienne
In honor of June, a popular month for marriages, here is an updated set of Q’s-and-A’s about Tennessee’s marriage laws.
Q. How old do you have to be to marry in Tennessee?
If you are 18 or older, you can get a marriage license and marry with no waiting period. (Note: Tennessee does not allow ‘same sex marriages.’ Tennessee also does not presently legally recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, even if such marriages or civil unions have been declared legal by another state.)
If you are 16 or 17, your parents or guardian must accompany you when you apply for a marriage license. If one parent has primary residential custody, then that parent must bring custody papers to show proof of custody.
Also, a three-day waiting period for underage applications is required, unless waived by a Circuit or Chancery Court or the county mayor or executive. The waiting period is waived if both parents of an underage party join in making the application.
If you are 15 or younger, you cannot get a marriage license unless authorized by the judge of the Probate, Juvenile, Circuit or Chancery Court, or the county mayor.
Q. Who issues the marriage license?
The County Clerk issues marriage licenses, but is prohibited from doing so if an applicant is “drunk” or “insane” or mentally incapable of making knowing decisions.
Note: A marriage license is only valid for 30 days. If the marriage does not take place in that time, another license must be obtained.
Q. Do I need a blood test to get married?
No. Blood tests are no longer required in order to obtain a Tennessee marriage license.
Q. Can an inmate marry?
Yes. The law permits an inmate to fill out a special notarized form, instead of having to appear at the county clerk’s office, in order to apply for a marriage license.
Q. Who can perform a marriage ceremony?
Tennessee law allows the following to “solemnize a marriage”:
- All ordained, regular ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis and other spiritual leaders of every religious belief, who are more than 18 years old and “having the care of souls”;
- Current and former county mayors and executives and members of county legislative bodies;
- Current and former judges and chancellors;
- The Governor;
- Current and former Speakers of the Senate and the House of Representatives;
- Each county’s County Clerk; and
- The mayor of any Tennessee municipality.
Note: It is a Class C misdemeanor if the presiding spiritual leader or official fails to return the signed license to the County Clerk within three days after the wedding.
Quakers may legally marry in Tennessee by exchanging vows before their congregation.
Q. Can former mayors and county clerks perform weddings?
Nope. Once out of office, they lose their marryin’ power.
Q. Does Tennessee allow common law marriages?
No. A common law marriage cannot be created in Tennessee. Only nine states – Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah – and Washington, D.C. allow common law marriages to be created today.
A common law marriage happens when two persons live together, present themselves to others as married, stay together a significant time, and intend to be married. To end a common law marriage, the couple must get a legal divorce.
New Hampshire recognizes common law marriages only for probate purposes after two persons have lived together as husband and wife for at least three years and after one partner has died. This allows the surviving “spouse” to inherit property.
Q. Can first cousins legally marry in Tennessee?
Yes, but there may be slightly increased genetic risks for any resulting children.
Q. How much does a marriage license cost?
Generally $97.50 to $99.50, but there is a $60 discount if the couple takes voluntary premarital counseling and provides a Certificate of Completion form. Long engagements and premarital counseling are good ideas.
James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case.