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Who can get married in Georgia?

While it seems to be an obvious question, there are many people who don’t know whom can actually marry in Georgia. This is an important question because if you are not able to be legally married, you are not able to obtain a divorce. This would prevent you from having a court decide who gets what property.

Let’s examine the three requirments for a valid marriage in Georgia. The parties must be able to contract into marriage, there must be an actual contract for the marriage, and the parties must consummate the marriage according to law. OCGA § 19-3-1.  To contract marriage means that a person must be of sound mind, be at least 18 years of age, or 16 with parental consent, have no living spouse of a previously unresolved marriage, and not be related to the new spouse by blood or marriage within the prohibited degrees. OCGA § 19-3-2.

While one might believe that no one would marry while their original spouse was still alive, this actually happened last year in Cobb County. A woman married her first husband in 2004 and then married a second husband in 2007 without divorcing the first. Her bigamy was discovered when she allegedly attempted to steal an automobile. While certainly interesting, I mention it to note that not only is her second marriage invalid, the woman  faces a mandatory jail sentence of not less than 1 year and not more than 10 years for practicing bigamy.

After reading the requirements for a marriage, you may say, “I don’t want to deal with all of those requirements, I’ll just co-habitate with the person I wish to be with.” While that is certainly a decision many people make in Georgia today, it may not be the best decision economically and long term because unless you entered into a common law marriage prior to 1997, Georgia does not recognize your relationship. This means that you would not be able to have a court help divide your assets should the relationship fail. Many times this will not be an issue, but if you have joint accounts, or have bought a home together, you may have a difficult time agreeing on how to split your combined assets. If this situation arises, one good option is to hire a mediator to assist you in your negotiations.

One last issue that we expect to see more of in the future is the issue of gay, or same sex marriages. Georgia prohibits and does not recognize any form of same sex partnership or marriage. This means that even if you were to obtain a same sex marriage in another state, Georgia Courts would not enforce the marriage, nor hear any legal issues, including divorce concerning any such marriage. In today’s mobile world, its important to know that just because one state recognize your marriage doesn’t mean that all states will, and that you need to plan accordingly as you move about the country. It also important to note, if you obtain a same sex marriage in another state and then move to Georgia, it may be difficult to obtain a divorce. Many states have residency requirements in order to divorce, and you would have determine what jurisdictional hurdles you may have to climb to obtain a same sex divorce, while living in Georgia.

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