If you're getting married in South Carolina, you must first apply for a South Carolina marriage license at a probate court. You and your future spouse must apply together: no proxies or absentees allowed.
The official who will process your application will be the probate court judge, clerk of the probate court, or other person authorized to issue marriage licenses.
Probate courts are county-level institutions. A license obtained from one county can be used in any other. Licenses issued in this state must be used in this state. Licenses obtained outside of this state are invalid here.
You are not allowed to marry anyone deemed mentally incompetent. Some probate courts design their application to ask if a court has ever found you to be mentally incompetent; answering in the affirmative would halt the application process.
South Carolina marriage license applications are very brief one-page affairs. The state doesn't design or print the forms: that's left to each county's probate court.
The application questions are fairly consistent across the state. Following is what you should expect to be asked:
- Current and full legal name, including suffix
- Birth name (if different than current name)
- Age and date of birth
- Place of birth (state or country)
- Residence (street, city or town or location, county, state)
- Gender and race
- Which marriage this will be (e.g., 1st, 2nd, 3rd)
- Social security number or alien identification number
- Phone number (only some counties ask this)
Your completed application will be stored in the probate court as a permanent record.
Documents you'll receive
Your issued marriage license also comes with a blank marriage certificate form that's to be filled out by your officiant after you're married. The heading of the license is actually titled "license and certificate of marriage."
Three copies issued
The licensing officer issues your documents in triplicate: one for you to keep, while the other two are to be returned to the probate court. This is elaborated on further in the solemnization section and its endorsement subsection.
Of all 50 states, and the nation's capital, South Carolina arguably has the most complicated marriage license pricing scheme in existence. There are three different price possibilities—four if you count the premarital course tax credit—that largely depends on residency.
There's one price for county residents, a second for state residents, and a third for non-state residents.
Since each county can set their own prices, there's no uniform statewide fee across the three thresholds. Some counties have the same price for all applicants, while others have set different levels for some or each residency group.
Fortunately, you don't have to apply blind; consult the full list of counties with probate courts where each price level is available for your review.
While exact cost figures can't be given, we can tell you that county residents typically spend $50 for their licenses. It ranges from $30 to $70, but $50 is the most common.
Non-county and non-state residents are charged fairly similar rates: most commonly $45, where the pendulum swings from $30 to $100.
You would think that county-residents are eligible to get the best deal, but that's not the case; if you apply in the county where you live you'll likely get squeezed a little more.
Greenville County is an example of one of those that does the triple-decker price split of $45/75/95, but at least their county-residents are granted the most affordable fee.
The only consistency is that $20 out of every license transaction is remitted to the state treasurer who deposits it into the state's domestic violence fund.
The only meaningful impact that residency has is the fee you'll be charged. The state has tri-level pricing for county residents, and state and non-state residents.
If you apply in the same county where either of you happen to live, you'll be locked into the county-level pricing for whoever lives there.
Keep in mind, you don't have to apply in the county where either of you live, so if you don't like the fee you'll be charged, then take the opportunity to shop around.
Every state has a dividing line between persons who are old enough to marry without parental consent; South Carolina is no different, yet its provisions are more complicated if there's a pregnancy involved.
Age 18 or over
If both you and you're prospective spouse are 18 years old or over, then you can marry straightaway; there are no parental or guardian consent requirements to fulfill.
Age 16 or 17
Age 15 or under
If you're 15 years old or younger, you cannot legally marry.
Pregnant or borne child
If you're 16 or 17 years old and pregnant or have given birth to a child, you can get married to a male aged 16 or older as long as you prove the pregnancy, fulfill the mandatory consent requirement, and marry the father.
Proof of pregnancy or prior childbirth is a must. Get a licensed physician's report or certified statement that confirms your claim.
Must marry the father
You have to marry the putative father of your child to get a marriage license. The putative father is the person who claims to be the biological father of your born or unborn child. The licensing officer cannot and will not attempt to verify this assertion.
Female needs consent, male doesn't
Pregnant or not, if you're the bride, you must obtain consent to marry.
Interestingly, the underage male doesn't need consent to marry if his prospective spouse is also underage and pregnant or has given birth to a child. The male can piggyback on his bride, and forego the need to solicit permission.
If you know you need consent to marry, this section will cover who must grant consent and how it must be administered.
Who can consent?
If you have a guardian or parent, that's who provides consent. Just one parent will do. If you don't have a parent, then the superintendent of the department of social services of either applicant's county can grant consent.
In person consent
Even if the consenting authority accompanies you to the making of the marriage license application, their consent must still be declared in writing as a sworn affidavit before the licensing officer.
In absentia consent
Your consenting parent or guardian does not have to go with you to the making of the application; a blank consent form can be picked up in the probate court and filled out beforehand. The consent form must be notarized.
Identification for adults
ID for adults age 18 to 24
If you're at or above the age of 18 but less than 25, you're ID requirements aren't as rigorous as what minors have to go through. You'll just need to present some reasonable document to confirm your age, such as a government-issued photo ID.
As long as the licensing officer is satisfied with the credentials you've presented, your application will be accepted.
ID for adults age 25 and over
If you're 25 years old or older then you don't need to show ID to prove your age. The licensing officer will take you at your word as long as you "look" at least 25.
If you appear to be younger than you claim, the clerk may exercise greater caution by requesting corroborating identification.
Birth certificate for minors
If you're below the age of 18, you must present an original or certified copy of your birth, baptismal, or hospital certificate. It must be dated no later than one year following your birth.
Certified copies will be retained by the probate court, while originals will be photocopied for the court's records. If you unintentionally give your original version to the probate court, you can ask for it back at any time; it will be photocopied beforehand.
If you're unable to locate any of the aforementioned certificates, you'll have two remaining options available to verify your age: sworn affidavit or government-issued ID.
No certificate: affidavit
You'll have to provide a written statement to the licensing officer saying that you tried (really tried hard) to get a copy, but came up empty. Your statement must be accompanied by a sworn affidavit from your parent or guardian that backs up your claim and confirms your age.
You'll have to provide a written statement to the licensing officer declaring that you sincerely tried and failed to obtain a certified copy of your birth record.
Your statement must be accompanied by a sworn affidavit from a parent or guardian that backs up your declaration and confirms your age.
No certificate: alternative ID
If you cannot produce your birth record and would prefer not to provide a sworn affidavit to that effect, you can confirm your age by presenting a military ID card, selective service ID card, passport, or visa; these are the only four acceptable substitute forms of ID.
After your submitted application is accepted by the licensing officer, there will be a 24 hour wait before you will be issued the license. This means you'll have to make two trips to the probate court: one to apply and the other to pick up.
When you get your license, the date and time you applied and the date and time it was issued will be shown on the document.
Closures and weekends
Be mindful of inconsistent office hours and applying on Fridays, as you may end up having to wait longer than expected; for instance, if you apply on Friday, you will most likely have to wait until the following Monday to get your license, as most probate courts close on weekends.
Also be clear that the delay is a strict 24 hours and not a loose one day interpretation. This means if you apply at 4pm, you can't come back the next day at 8am to pick up your license. You'll have to wait until the full 24 hours transpires before issuance.
On the day you apply, get the closing hours for that day and the next. If the subsequent pick up day closes earlier than the prior, you're looking at another certain delay.
No postdating allowed
The licensing officer will not post-date the "issuance date" printed on the license, then give it to you a day early. The application and issuance timestamp must be applied in real time. A licensing officer doing otherwise could result in their being fined and imprisoned.
Once you're issued a marriage license it will never expire. This is a nice gesture by the state, considering most other states apply expiration dates to their licenses.
If you're a divorcee or widower, you'll only be asked to specify which marriage instance this will be (e.g., first, second, third). Beyond that, you won't have to show proof for when, where, or how any previous marriage ended.
You are forbidden from marrying any of the following family members:
First cousins allowed
South Carolina does permit marriage between first cousins.
You cannot marry if you have a living husband or wife. Your prior marriage must be legally dissolved or else your subsequent marriage will be void.
Exception upon abandonment
The bigamous marriage prohibition does not apply to you if you've been abandoned by your spouse for the past five years and you don't know whether they're alive or deceased.
You don't need to get a blood test in order to get a South Carolina marriage license.
The licensing official is required to provide you information on family planning provided by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the "South Carolina Family Respect" pamphlet published by the Governor's office.
The state allows solemnizations to be carried out by any of the following:
- Ministers of the Gospel
- Officials approved to administer oaths
- Spiritual leader or chief of an Indian nation, tribe, or entity that's recognized by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs
Unlike most states, South Carolina marriage statutes do not include an extra clause allowing "any" religious organization, institution, or society to authorize any person it deems fit to perform solemnizations.
Since ministers aren't required to be ordained, licensed, or registered with the state, the real-world impact of the state's strict phraseology may be minor to nonexistent.
It's worth noting that since notary publics can administer oaths (like judges) they are permitted to solemnize marriages. South Carolina is one of only three states—Florida and Maine being the other two—that allows its notaries to perform marriages.
The term "solemnization" refers to the presiding over of your marriage ceremony. The person whose job it is to conduct the ceremony is called the officiant.
Although South Carolina doesn't require witnesses be present during your ceremony, it may still be a good idea to have them in case the veracity of your marriage is ever called into question; for instance, witnesses could provide sworn affidavits that your marriage took place if there's a failure to record your marriage.
Once your ceremony has concluded, your officiant's job isn't done: he or she must endorse all three copies of your marriage license.
Endorsement entails your officiant filling out the bottom "certificate" portion of each license copy. The following is what must be documented:
- Your signature
- Your spouse's signature
- Date and place of marriage (city and county)
- Officiant's printed name, title, mailing address, and signature
You'll notice there's no reference to witness signatures. Witnesses aren't required by law; therefore the certificate of marriage portion doesn't provide spaces for that. If a witness were to sign the certificate, it could result in invalidation.
Returning the license
Once all three licenses have been endorsed, you get to keep one. The other two must be returned to the licensing officer that issued it no later than 15 days after the ceremony so that it may be recorded.
Once your two marriage licenses are returned to the probate court, it will be recorded. Recording entails logging and indexing the contents of one of the two licenses in a marriage record book. The license is then archived in court records for posterity.
Once your license has been recorded, you can obtain certified copies of your marriage license. Certified copies can be obtained from the probate court that issued and recorded your license or the State's Vital Records Office.
The probate court will be able to dispatch certified copies sooner than the state due to the latter having to wait until the court sends them their copy.
Premarital preparation course
If you and your prospective spouse are willing to take a premarital preparation course, you will be eligible to receive a one-time $50 state income tax credit after you purchase a marriage license. This is a tax credit only, and can't be applied as a discount to your license fee.
You must both attend the course together. There must be a minimum of six hours of instruction. The state provides no guideline for the lesson plan, so what you'll learn will be up to your course provider.
The course must be taught by a licensed professional, such as a counselor, marriage and family therapist, psycho-educational specialist, or psychologist.
Members of the clergy or their designees may also teach premarital courses as long as they have training and expertise in the area.
Providers aren't required to be registered with the probate court, county, or state. You shouldn't expect an official roster be made available. It's your responsibility to find your own provider. If your provider charges a fee, then it's on you to pay it.
Certificate of completion
Once you've both completed the course, your provider must give you a certificate of completion. It should contain your names, the date you finished, how many hours you endured, and the provider's credentials. The certificate will be good for one year.
Presenting the certificate
When you go to apply, present your certificate of completion to the licensing officer to get your tax credit. They'll certify on your license that you're eligible to receive the credit.
It's not the job of the licensing officer to authenticate the legitimacy of your certificate or vet your provider's credentials. As long as your certificate looks genuine and is dated within a year of your application, you'll get your tax credit.
Filing your tax credit
The $50 income tax credit is one-time use only, non-refundable, and will be split between you and your spouse: $25 to each of you. The credit is claimed using a form provided by the state department of revenue.
The $50 income tax credit is one-time use only, non-refundable, and will be split between you and your spouse: $25 to each of you. The credit can be claimed by using a premarital preparation course credit form that is provided by the South Carolina Department of Revenue.
You should now possess a strong knowledgebase of what it takes to get a South Carolina marriage license. Your next move is to choose a South Carolina county probate court to apply in.