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Know Legal Requirements to Marry

Q: What are the requirements for marriage in Ohio?
Ohio law imposes a number of requirements which must be met before a couple may legally marry. These include the following:

    Age: In general a male must be at least 18 and the female at least 16 years old. A minor must first obtain the consent of his or her parents or guardian. Pre-marriage counseling generally is required when either party is under the age of 18.

    Mental and physical capacity: Since marriage is a contract, each individual must possess the mental capacity to understand the nature of the marriage relationship. Also, each must possess the physical capacity to consummate the marriage.

    Kinship: The couple must not be nearer of kin than second cousins. It should be noted that adult incest (marrying or having sexual relations with someone who is nearer than a second cousin) is no longer a criminal offense in Ohio.

    Single status: Each individual must be single. The crime of bigamy is committed when someone marries knowing he or she is still married to someone else.

    Heterosexuality: Individuals of the same sex cannot bind themselves in legal marriage in Ohio.

    Marriage license requirement: A license must be obtained from the probate court in the county where either of the couple resides or, if neither is a resident of Ohio, where the marriage is to be performed. Both parties seeking the license must personally appear in the probate court and apply for the license. However, this requirement can be waived if either is ill or disabled and provides a physician’s affidavit to that effect. Also, no license will be issued if either of the applicants is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

    Failure to follow the various requirements could provide grounds for an annulment or for having the marriage later declared void by a court.

Q: Who may perform the marriage?
Under Ohio law the following persons are authorized to bind a couple in marriage:
  1. an ordained or licensed minister of any religious society or congregation who has obtained a license issued by the Ohio Secretary of State;
  2. any municipal, probate, or county court judge;
  3. the mayor of a municipality;
  4. the superintendent of the State School for the Deaf; and
  5. any religious society according to its rules and regulations.

This authorization provision also applies to certain religious sects that have no regular clergy. In such a marriage ceremony, the bride and groom exchange their marriage vows in front of the congregation and proclaim themselves to be husband and wife.

Q: Must the couple recite specific words in order to become legally married?
No. Rather, it is the intent of the parties–expressed in the vow of marriage–that establishes the marriage contract. The vow does not need to include any specific words, but it must express the couple’s intent to take of each other at the moment it is spoken; it cannot be a promise to do something in the future. Also, no religious ceremony is required.


This “Law You Can Use” column provided was by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by John Gilchrist, a Columbus attorney and author of Divorce in Ohio and How to File for Divorce in Ohio. ​​

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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