Marriage licenses will be replaced by marriage certificates in Alabama beginning Thursday, Aug. 29. Some things remain the same following the change, but there’s one big difference: a civil or religious marriage ceremony is no longer required for the marriage to be legal and for a certified state record of it to exist.
The new state law governing marriage does not require or encourage a marriage ceremony to be performed, but neither does it prohibit it. Formerly, the law required that the person performing a marriage ceremony sign the license and return it to the probate judge within 30 days after the ceremony. That person’s signature is no longer required, and in fact, even the participation of such a person is no longer required for a valid marriage.
The new law passed by the Alabama Legislature this summer simply requires both partners to the marriage to fill out the certificate providing the required personal information, sign it, date it, have it notarized, and return it to the county probate office within 30 days of the signing date of the last partner to sign. (Information required: first/middle/last name; last name prior to first marriage; date of birth; sex; race; if previously married, why it ended; number of previous marriages; county and state of residence; state or foreign country of birth; and father’s and mother’s last name prior to first marriage.)
If one or both of the persons wishing to marry is (are) between 16 and 18 years old, permission of at least one of the parents of each partner under the age of 18 is required in the form of a signed, notarized affidavit of consent.
When the certificate is returned, the probate office will record it, forwarding the original copy of the completed form, along with any accompanying affidavits, to the state Office of Vital Statistics. The probate office will also provide the marrying partners with a certified copy of the certificate and retain a certified copy for county records. The parties to the marriage will be charged a recording fee of $74 at that time. That is the same fee formerly charged for a marriage license.
Copies of the official Alabama Marriage Certificate form are available from the Blount County Probate Office, or are available online from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s website (www.alabamapublichealth.gov/vitalrecords/marriage-certificates.html).
Probate Judge Chris Green had some practical advice for persons planning to marry under the new law and procedures. “What I would suggest is the bride or groom fill out the form and sign and notarize it at their convenience, and that the other partner fill it out at their convenience, then sign it and notarize it following the marriage ceremony or celebration. Then the date of that ceremony or celebration will be the official date of the marriage.” (The date the last partner signs the certificate will be the official date of the marriage in any case.) “Just don’t forget to return the signed and notarized certificate to the probate office for recording within 30 days after that last signing date, or it will become null and void and they’ll have to go through the process all over again,” he said.
The new law “shall not affect any other legal aspects of marriage in this state, including, but not limited to, divorce, spousal support, child custody, or child support,” according to the wording of the law that goes into effect Thursday this week.