Arkansas Wedding Laws
If you are a minister or a couple seeking a legally recognized Arkansas wedding, this guide will explain all of the state-specific statutes you need to be aware of to obtain a marriage license and conduct a legally binding marriage ceremony. By following the step-by-step instructions in this guide, you can avoid any potential pitfalls that could invalidate the wedding ceremony, result in penalties or create unnecessary hassle or expense for the couple.
Arkansas Marriage Requirements
The State of Arkansas only has a few requirements for a couple to be eligible to marry. Because federal law mandates that same-sex marriage be recognized in all 50 states, Arkansas recognizes same-sex unions. The state also allows residents of other states and countries to obtain a legally recognized marriage in the state of Arkansas. Persons seeking to be married in Arkansas must be at least 18 years old or 17 with parental consent.
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§ 9-11-102. Minimum age — Parental consent — Definition.
(a) Every male who has arrived at the full age of seventeen (17) years and every female who has arrived at the full age of seventeen (17) years shall be capable in law of contracting marriage.
(A) However, males and females under the age of eighteen (18) years shall furnish the clerk, before the marriage license can be issued, satisfactory evidence of the consent of the parent or parents or guardian to the marriage. (B) As used in subdivision (b)(1)(A) of this section, “satisfactory evidence” means a verified affidavit signed in the presence of a notary that states that the parent or parents or guardian of the minor consents to the marriage.
(A) The consent of both parents of each contracting party shall be necessary before the marriage license can be issued by the clerk unless the parents have been divorced and custody of the child has been awarded to one (1) of the parents exclusive of the other, or unless the custody of the child has been surrendered by one (1) of the parents through abandonment or desertion, in which cases the consent of the parent who has custody of the child shall be sufficient. (B) The consent of the parent may be voided by the order of a circuit court on a showing by clear and convincing evidence that: (i) The parent is not fit to make decisions concerning the child; and (ii) The marriage is not in the child's best interest.
(c) There shall be a waiting period of five (5) business days for any marriage license issued under subdivision (b)(2) of this section.
(d) If a child has a pending case in the circuit court, a parent who files consent under subsection (b) of this section shall immediately notify the circuit court, all parties, and attorneys to the pending case.
A.C.A. § 9-11-103. Minimum age — Exception.
(1) If an application for a marriage license is made where one (1) or both parties are under eighteen (18) years of age but older than sixteen (16) years of age and the female is pregnant, both parties may appear before a judge of the circuit court of the district where the application for a marriage license is being made.
(2) Evidence shall be submitted as to:
(A) The pregnancy of the female in the form of a certificate from a licensed and regularly practicing physician of the State of Arkansas; (B) The birth certificates of both parties; and (C) Parental consent of each party who may be under the minimum age.
(3) Thereupon, after consideration of the evidence and other facts and circumstances, if the judge finds that it is to the best interest of the parties, the judge may enter an order authorizing and directing the county clerk to issue a marriage license to the parties.
How to Get a Arkansas Marriage License
The couple does not need a blood test to get married in Arkansas but will need to pay a $60 fee for the marriage license. A license obtained in any Arkansas county is recognized in the entire state; however, the completed certificate must be returned to the office from which it was originally issued after the ceremony. The couple will be required to present photo identification to obtain the marriage license.
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A.C.A. § 9-11-203. Issuance by clerks.
(a) The clerks of the county courts of the several counties in this state are required to furnish the license upon:
(1) Application's being made;
(2) Being fully assured that applicants are lawfully entitled to the license; and
(3) Receipt of his or her fee.
(b) It shall be lawful for clerks of the circuit courts to issue marriage licenses in counties having two (2) judicial districts.
A.C.A. § 9-11-206. Clerk's fees.
The fee prescribed by law for the issuance of the marriage license shall be paid to the clerk at the time the applicants apply for the marriage license and sign the notice of intention to wed.
Applying For a Marriage License in Arkansas
The license must be used within 60 days of the date it was issued to be valid and must be returned by the time the 60 days is up, regardless of whether a wedding took place. There is no waiting period, except for underage couples, in Arkansas. Couples can get married the same day they receive their license if they are of age, which makes it easier for couples to ensure their wedding takes place within the required 60 day period before the license expires. Underage couples must wait five days from the application date to receive their license.
The state of Arkansas makes a distinction between religious and civil ceremonies on the marriage certificate. A religious ceremony, as would be performed by a Universal Life Church minister, requires a marriage license specifically for a religious ceremony. Couples being married by a judge or justice of the peace need a license for a civil ceremony. Because Universal Life Church ministers are recognized as religious actors, they have the authority to perform weddings in the state of Arkansas.
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A.C.A. § 9-11-218. Return of executed license to clerk — Effect on bond.
(a) Any person obtaining a license under the provisions of this act shall be required to return the license to the office of the clerk of the county court within sixty (60) days from the date of the license.
(1) If the license is duly executed and officially signed by some person authorized by law to solemnize marriage in this state, the bond required by § 9-11-210 shall be deemed null and void.
(2) Otherwise, it shall remain in full force and effect.
There is a waiting period of five business days for all underage (under 18 years of age) applications for marriage licenses.
How to Become a Wedding Officiant in Arkansas
To perform a wedding ceremony, the minister must be at least 18 years old but does not need to be a resident of Arkansas or the United States. The process of registering as an officiant in Arkansas is a bit more complex than in many other states.
Ministers are required to present documentation to the County Clerk's office prior to the wedding. Because of this requirement, ministers intending to perform weddings in Arkansas should secure an official Universal Life Church credential of ministry once they have been ordained online. This credential is usually requested by the County Clerk's office as part of the registration process. When the registration process has been completed, the minister will receive a certificate that confirms that the minister's license has been registered by the county clerk.
The registration process is different in different counties, so we recommend that ministers contact the office in the county they intend to register in to receive specific instructions before attempting to register. Ministers should be sure not to lose any of the documents issued during registration, because a ministerial registration number may be requested on the marriage license.
The Universal Life Church recommends that ministers retain a copy of the ordination credential, along with a letter of good standing to ensure they meet the Arkansas registration requirements. Ministers should ensure they have completed the entire registration process and submitted the required paperwork before the wedding ceremony.
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A.C.A. § 9-11-213. Persons who may solemnize marriages.
(a) For the purpose of being registered and perpetuating the evidence thereof, marriage shall be solemnized only by the following persons:
(1) The Governor;
(2) Any former justice of the Supreme Court;
(3) Any judges of the courts of record within this state, including any former judge of a court of record who served at least four (4) years or more;
(4) Any justice of the peace, including any former justice of the peace who served at least two (2) terms since the passage of Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 55;
(5) Any regularly ordained minister or priest of any religious sect or denomination;
(6) The mayor of any city or town;
(7) Any official appointed for that purpose by the quorum court of the county where the marriage is to be solemnized; or
(8) Any elected district court judge and any former municipal or district court judge who served at least four (4) years.
A.C.A. § 9-11-214. Recordation of credentials of clerical character.
(a) No minister of the gospel or priest of any religious sect or denomination shall be authorized to solemnize the rites of matrimony in this state until the minister or priest has caused to be recorded his or her license or credentials of his or her clerical character in the office of the county clerk of some county in this state. The minister or priest must also have obtained from the clerk a certificate, under his or her hand and seal, that the credentials are duly recorded in his or her office.
(b) It shall be the duty of a minister of the gospel or priest to add to the certificate of marriage required by law a statement setting forth the county where and the time when his or her license or credentials were so recorded.
(c) Any minister of the gospel, priest of any religious sect or denomination, or any person purporting to be such, who shall solemnize the rites of matrimony contrary to the provisions of this section, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. On conviction he or she shall be fined in any sum not less than one hundred dollars ($100).
Getting Married in Arkansas
The state of Arkansas only has two legal requirements for the content of the ceremony. There must be a verbal confirmation of consent from the couple, which is usually some variation of "I do." The minister also must make an official pronouncement that the couple is wed. Beyond those requirements, couples may include whatever elements suit their personal beliefs, traditions and preferences.
Arkansas does not recognize proxy marriages. To be valid, all of the legally relevant parties, including the minister and both members of the couple, must be physically present at the wedding ceremony. Arkansas does not require any witnesses to be present.
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A.C.A. § 9-11-215. Marriage ceremony.
(a) When marriages are solemnized by a minister of the gospel or priest, the ceremony shall be according to the forms and customs of the church or society to which he or she belongs. When solemnized by a civil officer, the form observed shall be the one the officer deems most appropriate.
(b) It shall be lawful for religious societies who reject formal ceremonies to join together in marriage persons who are members of the society according to the forms, customs, or rites of the society to which they belong, with the exception that the requirements set forth in the Covenant Marriage Act of 2001, § 9-11-801 et seq., shall be complied with if the parties enter into a covenant marriage.
Finalizing the Union
The most important part of any wedding ceremony is to make sure everyone enjoys this beautiful and love-filled moment. However, there are also some legal loose ends that must be tied up to ensure the wedding is valid.
First up, even if the wedding does not take place, the marriage license must be returned to the county office that issued it by the expiration date. If the license is not returned before it expires, the minister may be penalized.
Before returning the license, the minister must provide his or her full name, without any titles. If there is an additional space on the form asking for the officiant's title, the minister may enter "Minister" in that space. If the form requests the name of the ordaining body, the minister should list it as "Universal Life Church Ministries." If there is a space for the church's address, a Universal Life Church minister should list his or her own address.
It is important to review the license for any errors or incomplete information before returning the license to the county office. An incorrectly completed license may need to be reissued, which will cost the couple additional money and probably make them unhappy with the minister's services.
We recommend that Universal Life Church ministers retain a record of all ceremonies performed. This is particularly important for ministers who have signed a contract or received payment for their services.