Before getting married in Georgia, you must apply for a marriage license. The marriage license does not state you are married. It merely permits you to get married in Georgia. 

A person applies for a marriage license from the probate court in the county where they reside. If neither party resides in Georgia, they apply for the license in the county where they intend to get married.

After the wedding ceremony, the signed marriage license is returned to the probate court within 30 days. Then, the probate court issues a marriage certificate. 

However, what happens if you never return that document to the probate court? Are you still married according to Georgia laws?

Marriage License vs. Marriage Certificate 

The marriage license does not mean you are married. It only means you can get married in the State of Georgia. According to Georgia Code §19-3-1, the requirements for a valid marriage are:

  • The parties are able to contract;
  • The parties actually enter a contract; and,
  • Consummation of the marriage, according to law.

Therefore, you might not be married under Georgia law if you never go through with the ceremony. However, common law marriages were legal before January 1, 1997. Therefore, couples meeting the requirements for a common law marriage before January 1, 1997, could be married without a marriage certificate. 

The probate court issues a marriage certificate upon receiving a correctly executed marriage license after the wedding ceremony. The marriage license is signed by the officiant certifying they performed the wedding. 

The officiant is required to return the marriage license to the probate court within 30 days. The probate court records the marriage and issues a marriage certificate. You are officially married.

However, Georgia Code §19-3-30(e) provides another way to obtain a marriage certificate. If the marriage license was not returned for recording, either party to the “ceremonial marriage” can establish the marriage. 

The person must submit affidavits from two witnesses to the marriage ceremony to the probate court certifying the parties were married. The affidavits should contain the place, date, and name of the person performing the ceremony. The judge reissues the marriage license and enters a marriage certificate.

Therefore, you might still be married under Georgia law if you had a ceremony but did not return the marriage license. Either person can obtain signed affidavits from two witnesses to establish a legal marriage.

What Should You Do if You Are Unsure Whether You Are Legally Married?

Contact the probate court that issued the marriage license to determine if a marriage certificate is on file. If a marriage certificate is on file, you are legally married unless there is a legal reason why the marriage would be invalid. 

If there is no marriage certificate on file, talk with a Lawrenceville family or divorce lawyer. A divorce attorney analyzes the facts of your case and researches the court records to determine if you are legally married.

Again, if there was a ceremony with witnesses after a marriage license was issued, you are likely married according to Georgia law. In that case, you would need to file for divorce if you wanted to end the marriage. 

What Are the Consequences of Being Legally Married in Georgia?

Being legally married could entitle your spouse to spousal support and equitable property division if you divorce. If you were never legally married, that could change matters. However, you would have the burden of proving the marriage is invalid.

Instead, it might be more worthwhile to hire an experienced divorce lawyer in Lawrenceville to represent you in a divorce. A divorce attorney protects your right to fair and equitable distribution of marital property and debts. Your attorney also works to protect separate property from being included in the property division.

Your lawyer helps you negotiate a marital settlement agreement to avoid a prolonged court battle. However, if your spouse refuses to negotiate in good faith, an experienced divorce attorney is prepared to argue the case in court.

The terms of a divorce can have long-term impacts on your finances and future choices. Proceeding without legal counsel could negatively affect your ability to rebuild and move forward after a divorce. 

It is important to remember that your obligations as a parent do not depend on being married. The law holds you responsible for the care and upkeep of your children. 

You are financially responsible for your child, regardless of whether you are married to the child’s other parent. Therefore, you could owe child support even though you were never married. 

Contact the Divorce Lawyers at Crystal Wright Law To Get Legal Assistance Today

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm at (404) 594-2143 or reach out to Crystal Wright Law online by visiting our contact us page.
You can also visit our law firm at 440 S. Perry Street Suite 105, Lawrenceville, GA 30046.