In order to get married in Tennessee you must apply for a marriage license at any county clerk's office. Every county has at least one such office, while some of the larger populated counties have multiple locations. A list of Tennessee counties and their clerk offices are provided at the end of this document.
For the sake of brevity, throughout the rest of this document the term clerk will be used to refer to county clerk and the term license will be used to refer to marriage license.
A marriage license issued in Tennessee should only be used in Tennessee: should being the operative word. However, state law does provide an opening that permits clerks to record and validate marriages that take place outside the state's borders. This is a rare and strange loophole, but it's real and codified by Tennessee code.
In practicality, you may be hard pressed to find a legitimate official who's willing to preside over your marriage if presented with a license that doesn't originate from the same state where the marriage will be celebrated.
The persons in charge who are responsible for issuing licenses are the county clerk and deputy county clerk. Their capabilities, in terms of issuing and recording marriage licenses, are equivalent. However, the county clerk (who is an elected official) is the boss of the office who has the authority to hire and fire deputies and set the ground rules for issuing licenses.
What you'll receive
Once your application is accepted and fees paid for, the clerk will copy over what you wrote on the application onto a blank marriage license document. You'll hold onto the license, and the clerk will keep and archive the application. Your license isn't for you to keep; you'll forfeit it to whoever will solemnize your marriage.
What you won't receive
In some states, marriage licenses have two blank marriage certificate forms attached that must be filled out by whoever solemnizes your marriage: one to be given to the couple and one to be returned to the issuing office. Tennessee is not one of those states.
Yes, the official who solemnizes will have to document the details of your ceremony on the license and return it to the clerk, but you will not be given a duplicate copy.
If you need one or more certified copies of your marriage certificate, you can order them at the same time you apply for your license, or wait until after your marriage has been recorded and order it then. Either approach will incur a separate fee.
Contesting license issuance
It's possible for anyone to contest the issuance of a marriage license. Any such dispute will be heard by the judge of a probate, juvenile, or chancery court. The person objecting to the issuance must pay a bond of $50 to be heard.
If the person who filed the case loses, the issuance of the license will not be obstructed and they'll be out $50. If the parties to the prospective marriage lose, their license will be voided, they'll actually have to pay the court $50, and the person who brought the case will get their money back.
Tennessee does not impose residency conditions when you apply for a marriage license. State residents and nonresidents are free to apply in any county clerk's office and subsequently marry anywhere within the state.
The marriage license application is a simple one-page document; half for you to fill out, the other half for your prospective spouse. The state doesn't design the application; it merely sets general guidelines for what information must be collected. It's up to each clerk's office to design and print their forms.
Applications across county offices aren't interchangeable, so if you intend to save time by picking up a blank form in advance, get it from the office you intend to apply in.
While applications designs are inconsistent across counties, the questions are not. Here is what you can expect to be asked:
- Full legal name, including suffix
- Age and date of birth
- Current address
- Address after marriage (one address for both of you)
- Father's name, including suffix
- Mother's name, including maiden name
- Parents' address
- If applicable, guardian or next of kin's name and address
- Social security number
- Total prior marriages
- How and when your last marriage ended
- Highest grade of education completed
- Total years of college attended
The race and schooling questions are collected for vital statistics purposes. However you answer, or refuse to answer, won't affect whether or not you'll be issued a license.
If you can't apply in person due to a disability, your prospective spouse can apply on behalf of both of you if you provide a notarized statement containing your name, date of birth, address, and the name and address of your parents, guardian, or next of kin.
To simplify matters, you can empower someone to pick up the application in advance, fill out your half directly, and provide a notarized statement attesting to the accuracy of your side of the application.
Disabled does not mean "on disability"
When it comes to applying for a license in absentia due to being disabled, understand that "disability" is not defined. It should not be taken to mean being "on disability," such as Social Security Disability Insurance.
Disabled can mean anything from a broken foot to recovering from surgery. As long as the county clerk considers the submitted notarized statement to be authentic, there's no legal reason to reject your assertion.
The rules for an imprisoned applicant applying are virtually the same as a [disabled applicant]; provide your prospective spouse a notarized statement containing your name, date of birth, address (yours, not the jailhouse), parents' or guardian's or next of kin's name and address.
18 years old or over
If you're at least 18 years old, you can get married without having to obtain consent from anyone.
16 or 17 years old
If you're 16 or 17 years old, consent to marry from an authorized figure is a must.
15 years old or younger
If you're 15 years old or younger, you cannot marry without getting permission from a judge.
Who grants consent?
Consent to marry depends on who has decision-making authority over you. The following is a list of four authorized figures who can grant consent. Sequence matters, so go top-down from agency to next of kin.
If a public or private agency has custody over you, the person assigned to your case, or a representative of the agency, must grant consent. An agency is not the same as a guardian.
If the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) have custody of you, consent will not be acknowledged from any representative associated with either agency.
If you have a guardian, that's who grants consent.
If both your parents are alive, both must grant consent, regardless of their marital status. If you have one surviving parent, he or she must grant consent.
Next of kin
Now we're scraping the bottom of the barrel. If there's no agency, guardian, or parent in the picture, your next of kin can grant consent.
Whoever grants consent can do it in person or in writing. If done in person, they must accompany you to the making of the application, take an oath from the clerk that consent is being granted and that everyone's telling the truth about your age.
If the person who's granting consent can't go with you, or is unwilling to go, consent can be given through an affidavit, which is simply a notarized statement expressing consent.
Failure to obtain consent
If you're underage and you go in to apply for a license without fulfilling the consent requirement, you can still technically submit an application. However, you won't be issued a license until the consent obligation is fulfilled.
Immediately upon filing your application, the clerk will attempt to notify your parents via registered mail that you submitted an application for a license. This is partly why your parents' names and addresses are solicited on the application.
Your application will be held in office, and in limbo, for three days where it will be available for public viewing. If three days pass and consent is ultimately not granted, you won't be issued a license and you'll forfeit the prepaid application fee.
If expedience is important to you, and you want to avoid the parental notification and three-day holdup, make sure you satisfy the consent requirement before you submit your application.
Age restriction waivers
The judge of a juvenile, probate, circuit, or chancery court has the authority to waive any age requirement restriction. They can also waive the three-day underage wait. Mayors can also waive these restrictions.
How to petition the court
If you're the underage party to the marriage, you can't petition the court yourself; you'll have to have someone do it on your behalf. Whoever files must document if you've tried and failed to get these restrictions waived by another judge or court. Such court and judge shopping is frowned upon and won't help your cause.
Some form of ID will be solicited in order to verify your age. The state doesn't spell out which methods of ID are cleared and unacceptable, so it's up to each county clerk to decide what is or is not satisfactory.
Generally speaking, if you're underage bring a certified copy of your birth certificate. If you're under the age of 21, it's a good idea to also bring a certified copy of your birth certificate.
If you're an adult, then you're fine with any state or federal government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport.
How strict and how loose the clerk will be depends on the clerk or the rules setup by the office. If you don't have ID, or your provided identification is lacking, you may be able to get by if the clerk thinks you "look" old enough to marry without having to obtain consent to marry.
False identification penalties
Keep in mind, if a clerk issues a marriage license to an underage party without performing due diligence to authenticate their age, they could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, so they have a personal incentive to get this right.
On the flip side, you would be the one guilty of a Class C misdemeanor if you offer up fake ID, or misrepresent your age or any part of the application process. You'd also risk having your marriage annulled if such an action were brought forth.
There's isn't a set statewide marriage license fee. The cost ranges from $93.50 to $107.50. The most common fee is a straight $100.
If you're looking to save some money, you can take a premarital preparation course which will lower the fee by $60 dollars.
Premarital preparation course
If you and your prospective spouse are willing to partake in a premarital education course, it'll reduce your marriage license fee by $60 when you both present unexpired certificates of course completion to the county clerk when applying for your license.
You can attend separately or as a couple. Either way, you'll each be given separate certificates of completion. You're responsible for paying any fee attached to the course.
The premarital course must last at least four hours and cover the following topics:
- Conflict management
- Improving communication skills
- Children and parenting
- Common problems reported by married couples
Course providers aren't required to register their credentials with the state any county. They must be qualified to teach the mandatory subjects. Acceptable course providers include:
- Psychological examiner
- Licensed family and/or marriage therapists
- Clinical social workers
- Clinical pastoral therapists
- Authorized representative of a religious institution
- Instructor whose qualifications are established by the county's judicial district
Certificate of completion
Once you complete the course, your provider will give you a signed and dated certificate of completion. It will include your name, and your instructor's name, address, license number (if applicable), and qualifications summary. Blank completion forms are designed and available to course providers by the state's administrative office of the courts.
Certificates of completion expire after one year.
If both you and your prospective spouse are 18 years old or older, you'll receive your license the same day you apply for it.
Your marriage license will expire 30 days after it's been issued by the county clerk. Expired licenses are void and nonrefundable.
You are not required to get a blood test or medical exam in order to get a Tennessee marriage license. This was required in the past, but has been repealed.
You cannot marry anyone if you have a living wife or husband; doing otherwise would meet the definition of bigamy. You must divorce your current spouse before taking on another.
Living spouse exception
If your spouse has been absent for the past five years or presumed dead, you can marry another person. In such instances, your marriage would be considered effectively dissolved.
You cannot marry your ancestor or descendant, your parent's ancestor or descendant, or your grandparent's child. To put this more plainly, you cannot marry your mother, father, grandparent, grandchild, son, daughter, aunt, or uncle.
You can marry you first cousin and beyond. Tennessee's in the minority of states that allow first cousin marriages without conditions.
Half blood, whole blood, adoption
State law doesn't specifically mention whole blood, half blood, or adoptive relationships, therefore the absence of specifics would preclude the possibility of marrying any prohibited relative, regardless of consanguinity.
Drunkards, lunatics, and imbeciles
Your marriage license application will be rejected by the clerk if they believe you to be drunk, insane, or an imbecile. This is a non-clinical layman's diagnosis.
Return when sober
Most states are content to say some judges, ministers, or person authorized by a religious organization is authorized to solemnize marriages: not Tennessee. State code has saw fit to identify precisely who can and cannot preside over your marriage.
Let's thoroughly cover the persons authorized to oversee your marriage ceremony:
Any minister who's in regular practice, pastor, priest, preacher, rabbi, imam, or basically any spiritual leader of any religious denomination can solemnize. They must be at least 18 years old and ordained, but if the religious organization doesn't do ordination, the official is good to go as long as they've been authorized to solemnize based on the standards and practices of the organization.
In reality, there is no meaningful restriction applied to religious-based solemnizations, who must conduct them, and how it must be carried out. At a minimum, you have to declare that you're taking your prospective spouse as your husband or wife. Beyond that, the state has saw fit to stay out of the thicket of dictating how religious marriage ceremonies are conducted.
Nearly any judge that's a state resident may solemnize, including active, former, and retired judges of the chancery, circuit, juvenile, probate court, quarterly county court, and general sessions court. Basically any municipal or county judge can solemnize.
If you're having a judge preside over your marriage, you're likely having a civil ceremony. In that case, the judge will be chosen for you and you don't have to worry about the validity of their credentials.
State judges aren't the only ones who can get in on the action; federal judges who are magistrates or part of the U.S. bankruptcy court can solemnize as long as they're state residents.
The only thing that would knock any of these judges out of contention is if they've been convicted of a felony or have been removed from office.
When you go to apply, you'll be dealing with a clerk or deputy. Either has the authority to marry you; although, not all offices offer civil ceremonies.
Former clerks can solemnize (retirees and election losers) as long as they were in-office on or after July 1, 2014.
Certain politicos can solemnize, including county mayors and executives; current and former general assembly speakers (house and senate); current and former chancellors (not strictly political, but there it is); and even the governor.
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, can solemnize and their procedures differ from the norm. Parties to the marriage simply offering their vows in the presence of the congregation would be considered a valid form of solemnization.
If you happen to get married by someone who isn't authorized to solemnize, your marriage wouldn't be invalidated as long as either you or your spouse believed that person to be legitimate at the time. The state isn't going to chastise you because you had the misfortune of teaming up with an imposter.
Solemnization is the act of presiding over your marriage. The person who performs your marriage is often referred to as the officiant, who must be authorized to solemnize.
Officiant's duty to verify
As stated at the beginning, getting a marriage license is a prerequisite to getting married. Whoever is charged with solemnizing has a duty to go beyond just the license to determine if lawful solemnization can take place.
If the official has reason to believe that conducting a marriage would violate state law, license or no license, it cannot proceed. Doing otherwise would constitute a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine.
Certifying the license
Attached to your marriage license will be a small section that the person who solemnizes your marriage must fill out after the ceremony concludes. It's an endorsement that basically states that they joined so and so in marriage, at this place, on this date and time. This effectively certifies your license.
This portion of the license isn't a marriage certificate or certificate of marriage. It's considered a form of certificate. You won't get a copy of this document. No duplicate will be attached. If you want a photocopy, have it Xeroxed, but photocopies are just keepsakes that won't have the legal weight of a certified copy of your marriage certificate, which won't be available until after your license has been returned to the clerk for recording.
Returning the license
After your license has been certified, it must be returned to the clerk who issued it within three days following the ceremony so that it may be recorded.
If you're having Religious Society of Friends solemnization, the clerk of the congregation is responsible for filling out the license and dispatching it to the county clerk's office.
While some states restrict the grift, Tennessee allows anyone who solemnizes marriages to accept tips, gifts, and gratuity; even if the solemnization is conducted by a judge or clerk during regular office hours on government premises. This money is kept by the official and doesn't have to be redirected to the county's general fund or state's general fund.
Once your certified license has been returned to the clerk's office, it will be recorded in the marriage record book, and then it will be archived in the office in perpetuity.
At this point, if you're expecting a certified copy of your marriage certificate to be sent to you, you're out of luck. Getting a marriage certificate is not free, nor automatic. If you need a copy of your marriage record, you'll have to formally request it in person or in writing, and pay the search, processing, and mailing fee.
You can save yourself the trouble by ordering a certified copy of your marriage certificate when you apply, so that it will be automatically sent to you following the recording of your license.
Now that you're aware of the steps required to apply for a Tennessee marriage license, it's time for you to choose a county clerk's office to visit. Consult the list of locations below, which references every county in the state.