In Tennessee, a person can become a licensed ordained minister by being ordained with a religious authority such as a church or synagogue. A person may be a licensed, ordained minister with multiple ministries.
Under Tennessee marriage laws, a county clerk cannot require proof that a marriage officiant is in fact a minister or other authorized person to solemnize, or perform, the rite of matrimony.
Ordained ministers over 18 years of age are allowed to solemnize a marriage. A person who receives an online ordination may not solemnize a marriage.
Other Individuals Who May Perform Marriages
In addition to ordained ministers, other ordained religious officers who may marry people under Tennessee law include:
- Other spiritual leaders of every religious belief.
Religious officers and spiritual leaders are required to provide for their ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate and responsible act, such as the completion of a candidacy program for ministry. At a solemnization, no other wedding officiant is needed other than the ordained religious officer.
A couple does not need to have a wedding party or wedding ceremony for the marriage to be legally valid. The only proceeding necessary is the solemnization itself.
Public Officers Who Can Perform Tennessee Weddings
Public officers or former public officers who can marry a couple include:
- Members of county legislative bodies.
- County and municipality mayors.
- Chancellors defined as heads of chancery courts. (A chancery court hears matters in equity, lawsuits that request relief other than damages, such as performance of a duty specified in a contract).
- Former chancellors and former judges of Tennessee.
- Former county executives.
- Former members of quarterly county courts (courts held every three months).
- Former members of county commissions.
- Tennessee governor.
- Speaker of the state senate and former speakers of the senate.
- Speaker of the state house of representatives and former speakers of the house of representatives.
- Members of the state general assembly who have filed notice of their intention to solemnize a marriage with Tennessee Vital Records.
- Law enforcement chaplains duly appointed by the heads of authorized state and local law enforcement agencies.
- Members of the legislative body of any municipality in Tennessee.
- County clerk of each county.
- Former county clerks of the state who occupied the office of county clerk on or after July 1, 2014.
The several judges of the United States courts, including United States magistrates, United States bankruptcy judges and federal administrative law judges who are citizens of Tennessee are considered judges of Tennessee. A judge who has been convicted of a felony or who has been removed from office may not solemnize the rite of marriage.
The traditional marriage rite of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), which involves the parties getting married by pledging their vows in the presence of the congregation, is a valid solemnization.
Payment for Solemnization
A county mayor, county clerk, member of the county legislative body or municipal mayor who receives payment for the solemnization of a marriage may retain the money for their services.
The public officer may retain payment whether they perform the marriage during or after regular working hours. The money will not be paid into the county general fund or the treasury of the town.
Getting a Tennessee Marriage License
Counties have different rules as to how parties in a couple can get a marriage license. In Shelby County, both parties need to appear in order for the license to be issued. A marriage license is valid for 30 days from the date it is issued.
If the marriage license is not used within 30 days, it is voided, and the couple must purchase a new marriage license.
Parties can marry immediately after they receive their marriage license. The exception is if one of the parties is a minor under 18, there is a three-day waiting period after the application for the license before solemnization can take place. A couple may apply to the court for a waiver of the waiting period.
Under age 17
Between 17 and 18
Between 18 and 20
Age 21 and over
No marriage license can be issued.
If one party is between 17 and 18, the other party cannot be more than four years older. A birth certificate is required for verification.
A certified birth certificate is required for verification.
A picture ID is required for verification.
Fees for Marriage Documents
The fees for documents related to marriage vary by county.
In Shelby County, a certified copy of a marriage license costs $10.
The cost for a couple that has attended four hours of premarital preparation by a qualified instructor within a year of applying for a marriage license is $37.50. The instructor must notarize and sign the certificate of completion. The cost for couples that do not complete the preparation is $97.50.
In Rutherford County, the fee for a certified copy of a marriage license is $5.00. The fee for a marriage license is $107.50. If the couple has a certificate of completion form completed and notarized, the fee is $45.00.
In Knox County, the fee for a certified copy of a marriage license is $5.50 if requested in person and $9.02 if requested online. The fee for a marriage license is $97.50. If the couple has a certificate of completion form completed and notarized, the fee is $37.50.
Recording by County Clerk's Office
Typically, after solemnization, the Tennessee Department of Health Certificate of Marriage form and the bottom tear-off portion of the Marriage License Rites of Matrimony form must be completed by the individual performing the solemnization. That individual must sign the documents and forward them to the county clerk’s office to be recorded.
A marriage is not recognized by the state until the clerk’s office receives both of these forms and they are entered into the state’s system. A newly married couple should present the marriage license or a certified copy of it as proof of the marriage for legal documents and name changes.
A person who wants a copy of a family member’s marriage license should contact Tennessee Vital Records.
Information Needed for Marriage Application
A couple can complete their marriage application or marriage pre-application form online. They should do this before visiting their county clerk’s office to get the marriage license. The application requests certain information for each party:
- Full name.
- County of residence.
- Email address.
- Birth date.
- Birthplace state or foreign country of birthplace.
- Designation (bride, groom or partner).
- Marital history (whether the person has been married before).
- Highest grade completed.
- Parental information (full name and birthplace state or foreign country for both parents of each party).
As of July 1, 1985, a blood test is no longer required to get a marriage license in Tennessee.
License if Disabled or Incarcerated
An individual who is incarcerated or has a disability that does not allow them to appear in person to obtain a marriage license may submit a notarized statement.
The statement should contain the person’s name, age, current address, and the names and addresses of the individual’s parents or guardian. The form for the notarized statement is available in the county clerk’s office.
Getting a Divorce in Tennessee
A person who wants a divorce in Tennessee should file divorce papers in the county where their spouse currently lives. If their spouse is incarcerated or does not live in Tennessee, the person should file in the county where they live.
A person may obtain a divorce through a circuit, chancery or general sessions court. They should not file divorce papers in more than one court.
If the parties have no minor or dependent children, do not own any real property and agree on all aspects of the divorce, they can use court-approved divorce forms.
Tennessee Divorce Rules
In order to file for divorce in Tennessee, one or both spouses must have lived in the state for at least the last six months. Alternatively, one or both spouses must have lived in Tennessee when they decided to divorce. Divorce papers are public record, except for the document, “spouse’s personal information.” The information on this form is kept private.
The fee to file divorce papers varies by county. A person who cannot pay the filing fee up front may request to pay it later. They should complete a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order (Form 3). The earliest a divorce is granted is 60 days after an individual files a request for divorce.
What Is a Divorce Agreement?
A divorce agreement explains how a person and their spouse will divide their money, personal property and debts. It also covers alimony. A couple cannot submit a divorce agreement if they own buildings or land. A divorce agreement shows to the court the couple’s agreement. Both spouses must sign the divorce agreement.
The divorce agreement must be fair, or the court will not approve it. The court can change the terms of division. If a debt is in both spouses’ names, a creditor may try to collect after the divorce from either spouse. This is true even if the divorce agreement states that one party is solely responsible for the debt.
What Is an Annulment?
An annulment cancels a marriage. A divorce ends a legally valid marriage, but an annulment states that the marriage was null and void. At an annulment hearing, a judge or chancellor may consider the same issues as in a divorce hearing, including property division and child custody. An annulment does not affect the legitimacy of children born during the marriage.
In order for parties to get an annulment, the grounds for annulment must have existed at the time the parties were married. For example, if one party was legally married when they married a person other than their spouse, the second marriage results in bigamy and could be annulled.
After a marriage has been absolutely annulled or dissolved through divorce, each party is free to marry again.
Assistance From a Divorce Attorney
A divorce attorney can represent a person in court or advise them on how to represent themselves. A divorce attorney cannot represent both parties in a contested divorce, or a divorce in which the parties do not agree on matters such as division of property or child custody. This situation would create a conflict of interest for the attorney.
A court clerk can help a party to a divorce know which papers to file, but they cannot give the parties legal advice. A person can find a divorce attorney by calling a lawyer referral service in their area. They can also do a phone directory or online search to locate divorce attorneys.
- Shelby County, Tennessee: County Clerk's Office, Marriage licenses
- Justia.com: Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 36-3-301: Persons Who May Solemnize Marriages
- Shelby County, Tennessee: Certificate of Completion, Premarital Preparation Course
- Shelby County, Tennessee: Marriage Application Information
- Rutherford County, Tennessee: Marriage license
- Rutherford County, Tennessee: Certificate of Completion, Premarital Preparation Course
- Knox County, Tennessee: Marriage License
- Tennessee Courts: Court-approved Divorce Forms
- Tennessee Courts: Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order (Form 3)
- Justia.com: Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 36-4-125, Legitimacy of Children Unaffected by Divorce or Annulment
- Tennessee Bar Association: Find an attorney
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.