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Can you marry your cousin in Georgia?

I have several friends who recently took the Bar Exam. In part, the Bar Exam requires exam takers to memorize laws and then take an intense exam based solely off of their memory. Many joke that this is just a hazing ritual, because in the real world, attorneys do not memorize laws. We look them up. We do not rely on memory alone because what if we remember incorrectly? Additionally, laws often change so it's important to do your research.

We do a lot of consultations. It can seem like there are millions of laws. I don't have every law memorized, even if I had many of them memorized for about a month while studying for the Bar Exam years ago. Many of the laws that affect family law are ones we deal with every day; however, there are a lot of people in the world and a lot of different scenarios.

I recently conducted a consultation where a gentleman wanted his marriage annulled because it turned out that he was married to his first cousin. If the marriage is one that the law forbids, then it was not a valid marriage from the start and it can be annulled.

I remember studying for the Bar Exam and learning about how Georgia law deals with situations similar to this one, but it's been awhile. It's also a law I didn't think I would address in real life. That memorized law left my mind as soon as I left the exam room. So I had to look it up.

We live in Georgia so we've all heard jokes about marrying cousins. Surely, it's just a joke and it's illegal to marry your cousin in Georgia, right? Wrong. Maybe there is some truth behind the jokes.

Now Georgia is not a free-for-all incestuous state. Georgia law forbids certain marriages. The law provides in O.C.G.A. § 19-3-3 that marriage is prohibited between a father and daughter or stepdaughter; a mother and son or stepson; a brother and sister of the whole blood or the half blood; a grandparent and grandchild; an aunt and nephew; or between an uncle and niece. Notice that cousins are not on the list. If you would like to marry your first cousin in Georgia, you apparently can. Kissing cousins for real! If you have married your first cousin, you're going to have to seek a divorce and not an annulment if that is the basis on which you were going to seek your annulment.

If you have questions about your family law situation, do not go on assumptions. Consult with a family law attorney who can look it up.

Jennifer McCall

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