Marriage licenses are handed out on the county level at the probate court. Counties with a census-designated population of 400,000 or more are allowed to have satellite courthouses to better accommodate the larger populace.
The officials who work at the probate court responsible for issuing marriage licenses are the probate court judge or his/her clerk. The clerk's title is often referred to as Clerk of the Probate Court or Deputy Clerk.
Hours of operation
State law only allows probate courts and its satellite offices to issue marriage licenses between the hours of 8am to 6pm, Monday through Sunday; this is the permitted range, not the mandated range.
In reality, most probate courts close around 4:30pm to 5pm; some have designated "marriage license issuance" hours that typically run half an hour to an hour before closing time. This is because the processing time for a single marriage license application can take over 30 minutes to complete.
If you plan to present any documents that are not in English (e.g., identification, birth certificate, divorce decree), you may be asked to attach a translated copy by a certified translator. This requirement isn't mandated by state law, so its appliance may vary from county to county and courthouse to courthouse.
Where you're allowed to apply for a marriage license is based on the residency of either prospective partner to the marriage.
If either is a state-resident
If one or both of you is a Georgia-resident, you may apply in any county's probate court.
If neither are state-residents
If neither of you are residents of Georgia, you must apply in the probate court of the county where the marriage ceremony will take place.
Georgia doesn't produce and distribute marriage license applicants on behalf of the probate courts. It sets general guidelines of what questions must be asked, and leaves it up to each county to design and print their own forms.
The typical marriage license application is composed of four parts: the main application form, a supplemental form asking for social security numbers, a sickle cell disease information sheet, and an AIDS brochure. All four will be discussed.
If you want to save yourself some time in office, you can pick up a marriage application packet and fill it out at home. When you return to the probate court you'll be ready to go and the process should go by much quicker. Just be sure not to sign, initial, or date any parts of the application until you're in the presence of the probate court judge or his/her clerk.
Main application form
This is the document that asks the typical questions, such as your name, address, date and place of birth, and prior marriages.
One curious portion that may catch applicants off guard is the questions pertaining to your parents. You'll be asked to produce their names, birth names, birthdays, places of birth, and residence. If you don't know all or much of this information, then fill in as much as you can or just jot in unknown.
This is where it can come in handy to pick up a blank application a few days before you go in to apply for real. If you end up getting stumped by a question, you can take the time to research the answer rather than feeling the pressure to get it right on the spot.
The questions about your parents aren't just meant for underage applicants. It's solicited for applicants of all ages. Your marriage license will become a historical record, so family origin is useful to the state for legal and genealogical reasons.
Your application will be permanently filed in the probate court's records. If necessary, it can be acquired to serve as evidence in any court proceeding.
This is a small form that's separate from the main application. It merely asks for your social security numbers, names, and dates of birth. If you don't have a social security number, then just leave it blank.
This supplemental form isn't filed in the probate court's records; it's transmitted directly to the state registrar, also known as Vital Statistics. It may be sent via mail or electronically. Once it's been dispatched, the court doesn't need to keep the original form. It doesn't maintain duplicates, because it has no use for them. It's not logged as part of any public record. While the supplemental is temporarily in the court's possession, it cannot be publicly viewed, copied, nor is it admissible in a court of law.
Sickle cell disease
Since July 1, 2009, Georgia law has required probate courts to distribute information regarding sickle cell disease. It comes in the form of a brochure or electronic medium that discusses sickle cell anemia, sickle cell traits, and other hemoglobin deficiencies. The information recommends getting a blood test to detect these conditions prior to getting a marriage license. It's not a blood test requirement; it's just a suggestion.
The state's Department of Public Health manufactures and prints these documents; the probate courts just pass them along without further commentary. Everyone gets one; they're free. You'll be asked to sign and date a sheet of paper that confirms you received the information.
Since October 1, 1988, the Department of Public Health has printed an AIDS and HIV brochure that probate courts hand out to all marriage license applicants. It talks about the risk behaviors, dangers, and preventive measures of the disease. It also includes a listing of free, confidential HIV testing sites.
Like the sickle cell document, it's accompanied by a form that you must sign acknowledging receipt of the brochure. You won't be issued a marriage license unless you sign the form.
Probate courts are required to give you a marriage manual created by the Department of Public Health. The manual simply provides information on family planning. It also has a section that provides references to religious-based questions that tangentially overlaps with the manual's contents.
The manual isn't really a meaningful part of the application process. You won't have to sign a document confirming receipt of it the way you will with the sickle cell or AIDS brochures. It's a freebie; read it, keep it, or toss it.
Cost to apply
The cost of a marriage license varies throughout Georgia. Each county is allowed to charge something different, and they often do.
$76 is the most common fee. Several counties may charge a few dollars more, but the price won't get much lower than $56. This fee is per couple, not per applicant.
Everyone is eligible to save $40 off the standard license fee by taking a premarital education course. The details of which are laid out in the very next section.
If you and your prospective spouse are willing to participate in a premarital education course, you both may learn valuable lessons to establish and maintain a strong marriage. You'll also be eligible to save $40 off the marriage license fee.
You must attend the course together and you'll obviously have to complete it before you apply in order to get the savings.
The course must last at least six hours and will include topics covering improving communication, managing conflict, maintaining responsible finances, children and parenting, and any other marital-related subjects.
The course can be taught by licensed psychiatrists, licensed psychologists, professional counselors, social workers, licensed family or marriage therapists, or active or retired clergypersons who are versed in teaching premarital education.
You can contact a probate court close to you for local referrals, or just find one on your own.
After you complete the course, your instructor will hand you a signed certificate of completion. It should show the date you completed it, but make sure it's there before you leave. It's good for one year. Even though you must attend the course as a couple, you'll be given separate certificates.
When you apply for a marriage license, affirmatively mark the application section that asks if you completed a premarital education course. Present your certificate of completion as proof to get the discount.
If your marriage license application is accepted and you're deemed legally eligible to marry, you'll be issued a marriage license immediately. Once received, there is no wait to marry; your marriage ceremony can take place at any time.
Once your marriage license is issued, it will remain valid for 60 days; excluding the day it was issued. If your marriage ceremony does not take place before these 60 days lapse, the license will expire and be considered void.
An extension or refund request for an expired marriage license will not be granted.
ID and proof of age
When you apply, you'll have to supply identification that confirms your age.
Approved ID types
Following are the types of identification officially sanctioned by the state government:
This includes a birth certificate, baptismal certificate, or certificate of birth registration. It's recommended that the birth certificate be an original or certified copy instead of a photocopy.
This includes military discharge papers (also called DD Form 214), selective service card (AKA draft card), or a military ID card; spouses and dependents are acceptable too.
This includes a driver's license, state-issued identification card, or passport. The ID cards can come from any U.S. state, DC, or territory. The driver's license can also originate from Canada. The passport origin can be domestic or foreign.
Immigration, alien, or citizenship papers are acceptable.
This includes a court record, such as a divorce decree, or a hospital admission card. Admission cards must include your full name and date of birth.
No ID available
If you don't have any of the above forms of ID, then there are a few easy ways to move forward with your application:
The judge knows you
If the probate court judge knows you personally and is able to vouch for your age, then that's enough to get you over the hump.
You look at least 25 years old
If the judge thinks you look at least 25 years old, then that's good enough for the court.
If you give an affidavit to the judge where you state your age, then you can move forward. Understand that this and every other part of your application must be given under oath.
Age to marry
Anyone that is 18 years old or above can get married without having to obtain parental consent. Applicants that are 16 and 17 years old need to get the consent of the parents or guardians. Sometimes the consent of one parent/guardian will do, which will be explained further below.
Consent requirements can be quite confusing and malleable. The next section will try to untangle the consent to marry rules and procedures.
Consent to marry
Underage applicants require consent to marry, be it from parents or guardians.
Before moving forward, let's make clear what the state defines as parent and guardian.
The state considers "parent" to mean:
- Both parents, if both parents live together.
- The parent who has sole custody of the minor, either through divorce, separation, or death of a spouse.
- Either parent if both parents live together, yet one parent is unavailable due to being out of state, incapacitated, or too sick to offer or deny consent.
The state considers "guardian" to mean:
- Any person who is at least five years older than the minor and standing in loco parentis to the minor for a minimum of two years. In loco parentis is Latin for "in place of a parent," which means the person has been serving in the role of a parent in obligations and responsibilities.
- Any person who is at least five years older than the minor, whom the minor has been living with for at least two years, and where the minor can be claimed as a dependent for tax purposes.
- Any person related to the minor through blood or marriage, whom the minor has lived with for at least two years, and where the minor's parents can no longer be located.
- Any court appointed guardian, whether related to the minor or not.
To keep things simple, any upcoming reference to parent or parental shall refer to parent or guardian, unless otherwise stipulated. The following are the different ways that consent can be obtained and presented to the probate court judge.
The parent must provide consent in the presence of the probate court judge at the time the application is being made.
If the parent cannot come in to see the judge due to being ill or infirm, consent can be granted through an affidavit. An accompanying affidavit from a licensed attending physician must be attached that verifies the parent's poor physical condition.
In person, in another court
If the consenting parent lives in an Ohio county that's different from the applicant, then the parent can give consent by walking into his or her county's probate court and offering consent to the probate court judge who works there.
A certificate containing the judge's title and seal must be given to the parent so that it may be given to the applicant. Ohio probate court judges understand this procedure, so the technicalities shouldn't have to be explained to them.
In person, in another state
If the consenting parent doesn't live in Ohio, then the parent can go to whoever is the marriage licensing authority in his or her jurisdiction and offer consent there.
The licensing authority in most other states isn't a judge, so the process of what's being requested may need to be thoroughly explained to the official. Also, if the consent request would stand in violation to that state's marriage laws, it's possible the request would be rejected.
If a willing licensing official is found, he or she must provide a certificate that details the granting of consent. It should also include the official's name, title, and seal.
If the parent cannot physically go in to see the licensing authority, then they'll have to resort to providing consent via affidavit. An attending licensed physician must also provide an affidavit confirming the parent's inability to provide consent in person due to illness or lack of physical mobility.
If you've been previously married, you'll have to document that on the application. You'll be asked to specify how many times you've been married, how the last one ended, when it ended, where it ended, and why it ended. You don't have to elaborate; one word answers should suffice.
State law doesn't establish a minimum or maximum verification threshold that probate court judges and clerks must follow when dealing with this information. If you say you've been divorce, some courts may take your word for it while others may want to see proof, such as a certified copy of a divorce decree. If you're a widower, some courts may want to see a death certificate or obituary.
Not only can the verification process vary by county, it can vary by court, and by the person you end up dealing with.
As long as the probate court judge or his/her deputy is satisfied with the information you've provided, your application can proceed. Before going in office to apply, it would do you well to compile the documentary evidence necessary to prove your claims.
Marriage between family members
Georgia law prohibits marriages between certain types of family members, either by blood, adoption, or marriage. The following types of marriages are banned:
- Father and daughter/son
- Mother and son/daughter
- Grandparent and grandchild
- Great-grandparent and grandchild
- Aunt and nephew/niece
- Uncle and niece/nephew
- Brother and sister (whole blood or half blood)
Marriage between first cousins, second cousins, and beyond is allowed.
Anyone who knowingly marries a family member that's prohibited under Georgia law can face imprisonment between one to three years. The marriage would also be voided from its beginning.
If you're looking to get married in a civil ceremony, you can inquire if the probate court judge is available to solemnize in addition to issuing you your marriage license. It's certainly a convenient option, as you're already there and able to get everything done in one stop.
Some probate courts may refer you to a magistrate court for ceremonies. Some courts offer the service for free while others may charge a modest fee.
Depending on the court's workload, civil ceremonies may have to be scheduled for later in the day or on another day. Some are by appointment only.
If your application is being made near the end of the day, there may not be enough time to do everything before closing time. Schedule accordingly when you plan your application and ceremony.
Keep in mind that civil ceremonies tend to go by fast; just a few moments then it's over. If there's a queue of couples waiting to marry, then it's done in rapid fire succession.
The act of presiding over your marriage is called solemnization; that's the legal term. It's also referred to as officiating. "Officiant" is the job title of the person who does the solemnizing.
Georgia law doesn't have much to say about who can solemnize. Other than cite a few official types, the state takes a hands off approach in refereeing the legitimacy, rites, and procedures of a marriage ceremony.
For the record, the following types of officials are specially cited as authorized to perform marriages: current or former Governor of Ohio, any judge or magistrate, city recorder, or other authorized person.
That last bit, "other authorized person," is a nice catch-all that allows the state to sidestep involvement in how religious organizations prefer to go about their solemnization procedures. And not just religious organization; Indian Tribes/Nations or Native Groups can also call the shots how best they see fit.
As long as the institution or organization gives the go ahead to anyone to solemnize, then the state considers the marriage valid.
Whoever does solemnize is responsible for making sure the marriage license is marked up properly and returned to the probate court for proper recording.
Tipping the judge
If you happen to get married by a judge—typically a probate court judge—you're allowed to tip them as long as it's not during normal office hours. They're allowed to legally keep any tip or gratuity and designate it as personal income.
The person who solemnizes your marriage must return your marriage license to the probate court that issued it no later than 30 days following the date of the marriage ceremony.
The probate court judge will record the marriage license in a book designated for logging completed solemnizations. The book is permanently kept in the courthouse to maintain such historical records and to be used as a reference for future marriage record copy requests.
Once the recording has been completed, the original marriage license will be returned to you, based on the mailing address specified on the marriage license application.
Unrecorded marriage license
If your marriage license is not returned to the probate court after the marriage ceremony, then the state will not have a record that the marriage took place. As far as the state is concerned, your marriage doesn't exist until it's been properly recorded.
If you find yourself in this inconvenient situation, you can establish the authenticity of your marriage by personal affidavit or witness affidavit. This would provide sufficient proof for the probate court judge to properly record your marriage. Both procedures are covered next:
In order to establish your marriage with the state, either party to the marriage must submit an affidavit to the probate court judge that specifies the date of marriage, where it took place, and the name and title of the person who solemnized it.
In lieu of submitting a personal affidavit, the marriage can be established by submitting two witness affidavits to the probate court judge. Both witnesses, in separate affidavits, must attest to witnessing your marriage ceremony, indicating the date it took place, where it took place, and the name and title of the person who officiated the ceremony.
Either party to the marriage can submit the affidavits on behalf of both witnesses.
If you intend to change your name after marriage, you'll be asked to specify your new last name on your marriage license application. You'll want to make sure you get this right, as you'll only have one shot at it; marriage records can't be amended later because you changed your mind or left it blank at the time.
Name change options
After you get married, you can change your surname (AKA last name) simply by presenting a certified copy of your marriage record to the various federal, state, and non-governmental institutions. The new name on the marriage record is what you'll be required to change to when you begin the process.
Trying to finagle your way into a name choice that's not reflected on your marriage record is likely to face resistance. That's why it's worth repeating that you should get this choice right the first time around. That's why it's also worth repeating that picking up your marriage application in advance so that you can fill it out at home to ponder these portions may serve you well.
Now, let's cover some name change possibilities that will work equally well for men and women.
Don't change your name
Name change is optional. If you want to keep your current name as-is, then you can either fill in the new name section to mirror your current name, or just leave it blank; same thing.
If you're undecided about changing your name, then you can put in a new name that you may want to change to later with the understanding that's it totally nonbinding. Just because you say intend to change your name on the application doesn't mean you're legally required to do so.
This is just an insurance policy that you can make use of later.
If you're a female that wants to return to her maiden name, then you may do so. Insert your maiden name on your application as your intended new surname. If you're a male whose given name, which is your birth name, differs from your current name, then you can return to that too.
Your names don't have to match up; you can both return to your given names separately.
If you've been previously married or had an adopted name, you can return to those as well. Any previous name you legally had can be brought back to life.
Here, you'll be dropping your current last name and replacing it with your spouse's. Taking your spouse's surname is the most common choice. That doesn't make it a better choice; just most prevalent.
This is when you take your surname and your spouse's surname to combine them into one unified surname. Most people typically separate the names with a hyphen. It doesn't matter whose name comes first in the sequence.
Blood tests are not required, although you will be given an AIDS brochure and sickle cell brochure when you apply. You'll be required to sign off on paperwork acknowledging that you received both documents. The brochures will implore you to get tested for both diseases prior to getting a marriage license.
You cannot get a common-law marriage in Georgia. Common-law marriage licenses do not exist.
Common-law marriages that took place on or before January 1, 1997 are still recognized; even those that were established in a state other than Georgia. Common-law marriages that took place after January 1, 1997 are not recognized; even if the state it was established in still recognizes it.
If you get married in another state, it will be recognized here in Ohio, as long as the marriage isn't in violation of this state's marriage laws. Meaning, if a couple gets married in another state or county for the express purpose of circumventing Ohio marriage statutes, the marriage will not be recognized.
Getting married in Georgia is a simple process, but there's a lot of ground to cover. Further below are the county locations that lead to separate pages for each county. This is your next step to getting on with the marriage licensing process.
Some of the big counties have multiple probate court offices; if that's the case, every office within the county is listed. Specific fees, addresses, phone numbers, and hours are also provided for each office. If there are "marriage license only" hours, that's provided as well.
Final quick tips
A few quick tips for the road… When applying, arrive early; it's quietest in the morning. Lunch times are busiest, although some offices may close for lunch; typically from noon to 1pm; not usually more than an hour. Big population counties tend to accept more payment options than smaller counties. Cash is universally accepted; other forms of payment vary. Often you'll be dealing with the clerk and not the judge. Friday's are busiest.
That's about covers it. Good luck. Now, go on and find your Georgia county office.