Before you can get married in Alabama you must apply for a marriage license at the county probate court. The judge of the probate court will issue you the license. Sometimes, a probate court clerk will be designated to take on this responsibility alongside the judge.
You and your prospective spouse must apply together. You must arrive sober.
Be aware of appointments
Some county offices accept appointments and some even require them on certain days. Otherwise, service is rendered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Counties that have opted out
Six out of Alabama's 67 counties have decided to opt out of the marriage license business due to "religious freedom" reasons that appear to stem from objections to having to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
The six counties that have bowed out of issuing marriage licenses are Clarke, Covington, Elmore, Geneva, Pike, and Washington. If you contact their probate courts about anything related to marriage licenses, you'll be told to go to a neighboring county.
Alabama is the only state in the union where county government offices tasked with issuing marriages licenses have opted out.
If you were planning to apply in one of these excluded counties, you'll have to go elsewhere. However, if you're underage, be cognizant of potential residency conditions specific to your parents.
While there are no residency requirements for applicants—you can apply and marry anywhere in the state—some counties do apply a residency requirement for consenting parents of underage applicants.
All applicants are welcome and eligible to apply and marry in Alabama, including U.S. citizens, foreign citizens, and even those whose legal status is lacking.
Cost of license
The cost of an Alabama marriage license ranges from $70 to a tad over $100. The vast majority of counties have the price settled around the mid-seventies.
Instead of walking in blind to face sticker shock, you can consult the list of Alabama counties which provides exact fees per county, on their respective pages.
The marriage license application is a brief one page form that asks a mixture of identity and vital statistics questions. Expect to be asked the following:
- Current legal name, including suffix
- Birth name, including suffix
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Father's current name
- Mother's birth name
- Place of residence
- Mailing address, to send your marriage certificate if ordered on the side
- If you live inside city limits
- Years of high school and college completed
- Total number of prior marriages and how the last ended, such as death, divorce, or annulment
- Social security number
- Signature, to be signed in the presence of the probate judge or clerk
No social security number
If you don't have a social security number, you must either submit an affidavit attesting to that fact or provide a letter from the Social Security Administration that states you were never issued a social security number.
Application to license
Virtually every answer you provide on the application will be transferred onto your license, including your social security number. However, your social security number will not be shown on certified copies of your marriage certificate.
After you submit your "application" it'll be used to generate your "license" which is a legal, time-limited document that directs your officiant to perform/officiate your marriage.
The middle "ceremony" portion of the license is a blank form that your officiant must fill out following the conclusion of your marriage ceremony. It documents the when, where, and who of your ceremony.
Once your ceremony is done, the license must be returned to the probate judge who issued it for proper recording, so it ultimately makes a round trip back to its point of origin.
Certificate of marriage confusion
One quirk about the marriage license that tends to cause confusion is the masthead: it shows "certificate of marriage" instead of "marriage license." In Alabama, the marriage license, marriage certificate, certificate of marriage, and marriage record are synonyms that refer to the same document.
Whenever you order a certified copy of your marriage license, it's the same thing as ordering a certified copy of your marriage certificate or marriage record. The state achieves efficiency and saves money by combining the license and certificate into a unified document.
18 years old and older
If you're 18 years old or above, you're of legal age and can make marital decisions without the involvement of a guardian, parent, or judge.
16 and 17 years old
If you're 16 or 17 years old, you can marry, but it'll require consent from a guardian or one or more parents as well as the consent of a judge. On the other hand, if you were previously married, consent isn't required.
15 years old and below
Alabama is interesting, in that it's one of the few states that do not provide an avenue for 15 year olds and below to marry under any scenario, be it parental consent, pregnancy, a judge's order, extenuating circumstances, or a combination thereof.
Who can grant consent?
The person or persons who grants consent for an underage applicant (presumably you) to marry comes down to three possibilities: guardian, parent, or both parents.
If you have a legal guardian, then it's on him or her to grant consent for you to marry. Proof of guardianship must be presented to the judge.
One living parent
If you have one living parent, then he or she is obviously the one who must grant consent for you to marry. Evidence of your deceased parent must be presented.
Both parents alive
If both your parents are alive, then you may need either or both their consent to marry. Let's put aside whether or not they're still married, legally separated, or divorced. Instead, let's cut to the chase and focus on custody:
If only one parent has full legal custody of you, that is who must grant consent. If both your parents have equal, shared, or joint custody of you, both must grant consent.
Method of consent
If consent is to be granted it must either be done in person, face-to-face with the judge, or put in writing, typically as an affidavit.
Proof of parentage or guardianship
If you have a guardian, guardianship papers must be presented that are signed and dated by a judge. If one or both your parents are deceased, evidence must be provided by furnishing death certificate(s). If you have a custodial parent, proof must be presented, such as a legal document or divorce decree showing that, or a certified copy of an order that terminates parental rights.
Probate judge approval
Once you've got your consent ready to go, you'll have to get a probate court judge to provide their stamp of approval. This is far more convenient to achieve in Alabama, compared to most states, considering the licensing official actually is the probate court judge.
Potential county residency snag
Some counties require at least one of your consenting parents be a county resident before proceeding. Inquire about this ahead of time, as you may have to apply in another county that doesn't implement such restrictions.
Identification is solicited to confirm your age and identity. State law does not provide guidelines regarding which forms of ID are satisfactory. Each county probate court determines for itself which identification is acceptable, how many items to require, and if photographic evidence is necessary.
ID for minors
If you're a minor, you must present a certified copy of your birth certificate. Photocopies and hospital certificates will be rejected. This standard is absolute across the state.
ID for everyone
Adult applicants, underage applicants, and consenting parents or guardians must show one form of valid, unexpired government-issued identification (foreign or domestic), such as a driver's license, state-issued ID card, military ID, passport, or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued ID (e.g., visa, work permit).
Generally, your ID must show your name, date of birth, gender, and physical characteristics, such as eye color and height.
Considering probate courts make their own identification rules, don't be surprised if you're asked to provide your social security card or W-2, or your birth certificate in addition to another form of ID. Some courts require photo ID while others may accept your birth certificate as the principle credential.
Foolproof approach to ID
The optimum approach to fulfilling the identification requirement is to be overly prepared when applying, which means bringing a certified copy of your birth certificate, one form of government-issued photo ID, and your social security card or other government-sanctioned document containing your social security number.
If you don't have sufficient identification, you or some other credible person, such as a parent or guardian, can submit an affidavit attesting to your true age. The probate judge is required to accept this as long as there's no reason to doubt the validity of your claim.
There is no waiting period between application and issuance. You'll be issued a marriage license the same day you apply for it.
Your marriage license will expire 30 days after it's been issued. Wording will be printed or stamped on the license stating that it will be void after 30 days of nonuse. The issuance and expiration date will be written or printed on the license, so you won't have to calculate the end date yourself.
You are not required to get a blood test in order to attain a marriage license.
If you're a divorcee, you must bring a certified copy of your divorce decree. If you're a widower, you must bring a certified copy of your spouse's death certificate.
Divorce wait time
If you've been divorced in the past 60 days, you cannot obtain a marriage license unless you're remarrying your former spouse. Sixty days after your divorce has been finalized, you're free to marry anyone you choose.
Marrying blood relations
You cannot marry any of the following blood relations, which would be considered incestuous:
- Aunt or uncle
- Niece or nephew
First cousin marriage permitted
Alabama law neither forbids nor sanctions marriage between first cousins, so it is, presumably, allowed. The application nor the probate court judge or clerk will inquire if you're related to the other applicant.
You can't marry someone who's been declared mentally incompetent or incapacitated by a court of valid jurisdiction, such as a probate court. Nor can someone marry you, if you're incompetent.
Guardian's approval required
If you're an incompetent ward, whether an adult or minor, you will only be permitted to marry if you obtain the consent of your assigned guardian.
Who may solemnize?
Persons who are authorized to solemnize marriages are split between judges and religious figures or societies.
You can be married by an active or retired state-level judge of the Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals, circuit court, district court, or probate court; or by any active federal judge.
You can be married by any licensed minister of the gospel who remains an active member of his or her Christian church or institution. Ministers are not required to register with the state in order to perform marriages.
You can be married by any pastor or clerk of any religious society, such as the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers; or Mennonites. Solemnizations may be carried out according to the norms of each society and its congregation.
The clerk or recorder of each society is required by law to maintain a registry of each marriage conducted under the auspices of the society.
Before your marriage ceremony can begin, you must forfeit your unexpired marriage license to the person who will be presiding over the ceremony.
Witnesses are not required to attend your ceremony. Any witness you voluntarily bring will not be allowed to sign your certificate of marriage at the ceremony's conclusion.
Endorsement or certification
After your marriage has been solemnized, your officiant must endorse, or certify, the "ceremony" portion of the marriage license. The officiant must print or write in when and where the marriage was celebrated, as well as their name, title, signature, and address.
Neither you nor your spouse will need to sign anything.
Returning the license
Your officiant must return the endorsed/certified marriage license to the probate judge that issued it within 30 days following the ceremony so that it may be recorded. Failure by the officiant to return the completed marriage license is a misdemeanor offence.
Once your marriage license has been received by the probate judge, it will be registered and recorded in a courthouse registry book kept for that purpose.
Recording involves the probate judge or clerk filling in the bottommost "local official" portion of the license by specifying the date the license was received, jotting in the marriage registry book page number it will be filed under, and applying his or her signature.
Forward to state health department
The probate judge must forward all recorded marriage licenses to the state's Center for Health Statistics no later than the 5th day of the following calendar month.
At this point, the probate court's job is done. If you need to obtain certified copies of your marriage certificate, you'll have to deal with your county or state health department. However, amendments and corrections to a faulty certificate are still handled by the probate court that issued the license.
Marriage certificate copies
You can order one or more certified copies of your marriage certificate from either your county health department or the Alabama Center for Health Statistics. County offices can search for and furnish certified copies of vital records for any marriage that took place in the state.
Certified copies of your marriage certificate are derived from your recorded marriage license, and can serve as prima facie evidence that your marriage took place and is valid.
Changing your name
If you intend to change your name after marriage, a certified copy of your marriage certificate must be presented to the various government institutions in order to process a simple marriage-related name change.
As of January 1, 2017, no one can enter into a common law marriage in this state. However, any common-law marriage that took place prior to January 1, 2017 will still be recognized in this state.
Choosing a probate court
Getting a marriage license in Alabama isn't a difficult process as long as you arrive well-prepared when it comes time to apply. Now that you have a solid knowledgebase of what to expect at the probate court, you must choose where to apply.
Every county has at least one probate court. Some counties have multiple probate courts, but not all of them process marriage license applications. Review the collection of Alabama county links below which will only reference probate courts that are actually in the business of issuing marriage licenses.