In a few days, getting married in Alabama will only involve filling out an application, having it notarized, and taking it to the probate judge's office.

Under a state law that goes into effect Thursday, a couple wishing to get married will not be required to file an application for a marriage license with their county's probate court, and the courts no longer will issue a license.

Instead, the couple will fill out an Alabama Marriage Certificate, have it notarized and deliver it to the probate court for recording, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The certificate is available at the department's website, as well as the probate judges' offices in all Alabama counties.

Some probate judges are still seeking clarification on parts of the new law.

Lauderdale Probate Judge Will Motlow said the new law isn't clear about whether both individuals on the application must come in person to turn in their notarized document.

Currently, the couple wanting to get married has to appear together with some form of identification to obtain a license.

“(Under the new law), they can fill it out somewhere else and then just deliver it, which can create some problems,” Motlow said. “We like to see people down here. We want to make sure the person is of sound mind and make sure the person doesn’t appear to be under duress.

"Without having to appear and without having a minister solemnize the wedding, you run more of a risk of something like that happening.”

Probate judges are hoping that issue will be addressed through an official opinion from the Alabama Attorney General's Office before the law goes into effect.

The attorney general’s office last week said the opinion isn’t ready to be issued to the public.

The Alabama Legislature approved this new law to accommodate multiple probate judges in the state who stopped handing out marriages licenses all together after the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal across the U.S. in 2015. Alabama law says probate judges “may” issue marriage licenses, but doesn’t force them to do so.

Motlow said he would have preferred to see the solemnization part be left in the law since marriage can be considered a religious act.

“If we are going to be under the logic that marriage originates as a religious institution then why are we taking the church out of this,” Motlow said. “I think the church should still have a role in that, but under the current law, they have no role. You can have a ceremony in a church and all that, but legally it has no impact.”

Under the new law, the documents are not valid until they are signed and notarized.

"They are considered married at the time the second party executes the document, provided it's recorded in (the) probate office within 30 days," Motlow said. "The valid date of your marriage is the day you sign it, but it has to be turned in to us to make it valid."

Motlow, who has not been performing ceremonies, said there currently is a $73 filing fee for a marriage license in Lauderdale County, and that fee will remain the same. He said $60 of that fee goes toward the state domestic violence trust fund.

He said they have forms for marriage certificates at the office if the couple does not want to print one and bring it to the office.

"We'll have forms here for people to pick up if they'd like to," Motlow said. "Some people, I would imagine, would just like to come here and fill it out and have it all done here."

Emily Benson, assistant chief clerk at the Colbert County Probate Judge's Office, said couples haven't been married at the probate judge's office since 2015.

Benson said the Colbert probate office will not be notarizing marriage certificates. Once the contract is notarized, it must be recorded at the probate office, which will cost $70.

"The best thing is, if you have computer access, is to fill it out online," she said.

Benson said the couple's date of marriage will be the date the certificate is signed and notarized.

"For people who are having a ceremony, if they want that to be their wedding date, they have to have it notarized on that day," she said.

Benson said she has heard some ministers may incorporate that process into the ceremony.

The certificate will then be forwarded to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Benson stressed the notary section must be filled out in full, with the notary's name, signature, stamp and date included. 

The new marriage certificate asks for each prospective spouse's name, date of birth, gender, race, county and state of residence, and state or foreign country of birth. In addition, it asks the names of their mothers and fathers.

It also asks whether each prospective spouse has a previous marriage and, if so, when the most recent marriage ended.

The Social Security numbers of the couple are required but do not appear on certified copies.

Motlow said he does not anticipate any problem if someone obtains a marriage license before Thursday but does not get married until after Thursday.

"There have been discussions among judges about that," he said. "To me, if you fill out a license, that license is good for 30 days. I cannot imagine any reasonable person thinking that license would not be valid."

-- Caroline Beck with the Alabama Daily News, contributed to this report. or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski


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