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Ohio's Marriage Laws

Marriage is a legal as well as spiritual and personal relationship. When you repeat your marriage vows, you enter into a legal contract. There are three parties to that legal contract: 1) you; 2) your spouse; and 3) the state of Ohio. The state is a party to the contract because under its laws, you have certain obligations and responsibilities to each other, to any children you may have, and to Ohio.

What are the obligations of marriage?

It is important for both of you to realize that you have the obligations of mutual respect, fidelity and support of each other. Both parties to the marriage must support themselves and their spouse out of their respective property or by their respective labor. If a married person is unable to do so, as in the case of injury or disease, the other spouse must assist in the support so far as the spouse is able. The duty to support also extends to the parties' biological and adopted children. Failure to provide support to your spouse or your dependents may result in a civil action to recover the cost of "necessaries" or a criminal charge for non-support of dependents.

How do you obtain a marriage license?

The probate court in each of Ohio's 88 counties is the only agency in this state authorized to issue a marriage license. Application for a marriage license must be made under oath by the contracting parties to the probate court of the county in which either party resides. If neither party is an Ohio resident, application must be made in the county where the marriage will be solemnized.

Both parties must appear in person and state under oath the following: name, age, residence, place of birth, occupation, Social Security number, father's name and mother's maiden name, if known, and the name of the person expected to solemnize the marriage, if known. The probate court may ask for a birth certificate showing the age of an applicant or proof of other pertinent facts.

If one or both applicants have been married before, the application must include the names of the parties to the marriage and the names of any minor children. If either party has been divorced, the places, dates and case numbers of the divorces must be provided. Also, a certified copy of the most recent divorce decree must be presented at the time of application.

There is a fee for the marriage license established by the probate court in each of Ohio's 88 counties. Check with your local probate court to obtain this cost.

Before 2001, Ohio marriage licenses could not be issued in fewer than five days from the date of application unless, for good cause, the probate judge waived the time limitation. Effective Februrary 2001, the law changed, and there is no longer a five-day waiting period requirement. The marriage license is good for 60 days. If the marriage is not performed within that time, a new license must be secured.

Who may contract a marriage?

Male persons of the age of 18 years and female persons of the age of 16 years, not nearer of kin than second cousins and not having a husband or wife, may be joined in marriage. A minor must first obtain the consent of his or her parents, surviving parent, parent who is designated the residential parent and legal custodian of the child by a court of competent jurisdiction, the guardian of his or her person, or any of the following who has been awarded permanent custody of him or her by a court exercising juvenile jurisdiction: an adult person; the Department of Human Services or any child welfare organization certified by that department; or a public children services agency. (This consent for a minor generally applies to females under the age of 18, but also may apply to males under 18.) In addition, an applicant under the age of 18 years must provide proof of age and must prove that he or she has received marriage counseling satisfactory to the court.

No license to marry will be issued if either applicant is under the influence of intoxicating liquor or narcotic drugs, or if infected with syphilis that is communicable or likely to become so.

What is a premarital contract?

A premarital agreement (also called a prenuptial or antenuptial agreement) is a contract entered into by persons about to be married, who wish to resolve issues of support, distribution of wealth and identification, separation and/or division of property, in the event of the death of either spouse or the failure of the proposed marriage. Generally, premarital agreements can be used to divest the parties of rights to each other's property that would normally arise by virtue of marriage. Consequently, they are commonly used by wealthy persons who wish to preserve all or part of teh wealth from the spouse, or to keep the wealth in the same family that generated it. Premarital contracts also may be used by those who have been previously married and wish to see that their property goes to the children of the prior marriage on the termination of the proposed marriage, and by those who have had a bad experience in a prior divorce with regard to property and/or spousal support and have no wish to repeat the experience.

Who may perform a marriage ceremony?

There are specific named categories of persons who are authorized to solemnize marriages in the state of Ohio, including ordained or licensed ministers of any religious society, specified judges and mayors.

Is common law marriage recognized in Ohio?

Until October 1991, Ohio recognized the formation of common law marriages, and the courts required specific factors to establish a valid common law marriage, such as the length of time parties lived together. Since October 1991, parties who wish their marriage to be recognized by the state have been required to obtain a marriage certificate. While Ohio does not recognize common law marriages entered into after 1991, it does still recognize common law marriages that were validly entered into before that date, or that arose in another state according to that state's laws.

Must a married couple use the same last name?

Assumption by the wife of the husband's last name is a matter of custom and tradition. In fact, either may assume the other's name, or both may adopt a new surname upon marriage. The custom has been modified by the wife's addition of the husband's last name by hyphenation or retention of her own last name. There is nothing to prevent a person from using more than one name.

A person who is changing his or her name must notify several agencies of this fact. These would include the Social Security Administration and the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Without these changes, problems may arise concerning the driver's license and income taxes for the Internal Revenue Service. Such a person also should contact any firm with which he or she has credit accounts and banks that have issued credit cards, as well as the person's employer, retirement boards, or various state agencies.

How does marriage affect ownership of property?

In Ohio, the act of getting married does not give either a husband or wife an ownership interest in assets that were owned by the other spouse before the marriage. It also does not create an obligation or liability for the premarital debts of the other spouse. Assets acquired after the marriage may be titled jointly by the couple or held in the separate name of either spouse. However, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse has rights under the law whether or not the deceased spouse had a will. Those rights include a family allowance, an interest in real property and the right to remain in the couple's home for at least one year - even if all assets were owned in the deceased spouse's name. A non-owner spouse has an ownership interest in real estate, whether acquired before or after the marriage, that cannot be released without his or her consent. In a case of a divorce, the court decides how assets will be divided between spouses.

What about insurance beneficiaries?

If you already have acquired life insurance policies, you may wish to designate your spouse as a beneficiary. To do this, contact your insurance agent. If you are covered by a group insurance plan through your employer, you should advise your employer if you wish to change your beneficiaries.

How important is record keeping?

There is no better time to start keeping records than the present. This is an excellent habit to develop, because you can never tell when a receipt or a check stub will save you many dollars. It would be wise to obtain a safe deposit box in which to safely keep insurance policies, marriage certificate, birth certificates, religious certificates, deeds, contracts and other valuable documents.

A checking account is a handy record-keeping device. Your canceled check acts as a valuable receipt in case any question should arise as to the payment of a bill. Furthermore, the payment of bills by check also will serve as an adequate record in case the Internal Revenue Service should question a deduction.

Reprinted courtesy of the Ohio State Bar Association

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