Tennessee has several statutes that control how a valid marriage is formed in Tennessee.  The basic requirements and limitations are as follows:

  • License.  Before the marriage ceremony, the parties must obtain a license from the county clerk either where the woman resides or where the ceremony will take place.  The minister or official who solemnizes the marriage must sign the license.  If either of the parties is under the age of 18, there is a three-day waiting period and a notice will be sent to the parents, guardian, or next-of-kin of the minor.
  • Age.  Both parties must be age 16 or older.  However, this age requirement can be waived by a judge or county mayor if the parties can show “good cause”.
  • Competent.  Both parties must be competent and be able to understand the consequences of getting married.  A clerk commits a class-C misdemeanor if he issues a marriage license to someone who is drunk or incompetent.
  • Relationship.  A person cannot marry a “lineal ancestor or descendant, nor the lineal ancestor or descendant of either parent, nor the child of a grandparent, nor the lineal descendants of husband or wife, as the case may be, nor the husband or wife of a parent or lineal descendant”.  (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-101)
  • Marital status.  A person cannot enter into a marriage if they are already married to someone else.  However, the prior marriage will be considered dissolved if the spouse has been absent for 5 years and is not known to be living.
  • Medical examination.  Tennessee no longer has a requirement for any type of medical examination prior to marriage.
  • Sex.  Currently, marriage in Tennessee is limited to one man and one woman by state law.  (Update:  This is now obsolete.  Same sex marriage is perfectly legal in all of the United States)
  • Ceremony.  There are no particular requirements for the ceremony, other than that the parties must appear in person before the individual performing the marriage.  The list of persons authorized to perform the ceremony is as follows: “regular ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis and other spiritual leaders of every religious belief, more than eighteen (18) years of age, having the care of souls, and all members of the county legislative bodies, county mayors, judges, chancellors, former chancellors and former judges of this state, former county executives or county mayors of this state, former members of quarterly county courts or county commissions, the governor, the speaker of the senate and former speakers of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives and former speakers of the house of representatives, the county clerk of each county and the mayor of any municipality in the state may solemnize the rite of matrimony. For the purposes of this section, the several judges of the United States courts, including United States magistrates and United States bankruptcy judges, who are citizens of Tennessee are deemed to be judges of this state”. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-301)

Finally, Tennessee does not recognize common law marriage.  You can live with somebody for ever and ever, but unless you comply with the requirements above, you are not married, and you do not enjoy the protections married people have.  However, Tennessee will recognize a common law marriage that was created and is valid in another state.

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to contact me to find out if I can help you with your situation.

Comments for this post are closed because I mentioned the challenge to traditional notions of marriage.  I don’t want my comments to turn into a war over this polarizing issue.