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Am I married in the United States if I married my spouse in a foreign country?

Considering that we at The Manely Firm. P.C. specialize in Family and International Family Law, one of the most common questions people ask us is as follows: “If I got married in a foreign country, am I still married in the United States?” For example, if I got married in India or Germany – am I still married in the United States?  The answer to that question is sometime complex depending on the circumstances. While a marriage overseas could be a legitimate marriage in the place where it took place (based on the law of the foreign country),  it is not always recognized in  the  United States.

Generally speaking, the United States has an overall policy  of recognizing marriages performed overseas as long as the marriage  complies with the laws and public policies of the United States. Domestic/Family Law in the United States is determined by the law of the state, so the answer to the marriage recognition question may vary depending on which state in the United States in which you are trying to have the marriage recognized.  For example, different states have  different age requirements to enter into the marriage. In the state of Georgia, you must be at least 18 years of age, in a sound mind and have no have no living spouse of a previous undissolved marriage (O.C.G.A. §19-3-2). Under certain conditions, a 17 year old can obtain license to marry, if emancipated by court’s decision, and, in addition:

  • If the emancipation was pursuant to a petition filed with the court, a certified copy of the order providing for the emancipation shall be provided as documentary proof;
  • At least 15 days shall have passed since such emancipation shall have occurred by operation of law or pursuant to a petition filed with the court;
  • The older party to the marriage contract shall not be more than four years older than the younger party to the marriage contract; and

Each party to the marriage contract who is 17 years of age shall present a certificate of completion of premarital education as provided under Code Section 19-3-30.1. (O.C.G.A. §19-3-2). Therefore, the marriage to a child bride will not be recognized in the State of Georgia unless Georgia law on marriage is satisfied.

The same logic applies to the Georgia requirement of bride and groom to not be related to the prospective spouse by blood or marriage within the prohibited degrees. In the State of Georgia people cannot marry (and it is punishable by imprisonment) if you are:

  • Father and daughter or stepdaughter;
  • Mother and son or stepson;
  • Brother and sister of the whole blood or the half blood;
  • Grandparent and grandchild;
  • Aunt and nephew; or
  • Uncle and niece (O.C.G.A. 19-3-3).

While different countries may vary in the requirements based on culture, traditions, and religious beliefs, the majority of the states with a very few exceptions have similar requirements. For example, the State of Georgia allows marriages between first cousins, while some other states do not at all or allow the same under certain conditions (the parties are over certain age or one of the infertile, for example). For example, you can marry a first cousin in Wisconsin  if a woman is 55 or older or if either party is sterile. Some countries allow marriages between relatives, for example, a marriage between an uncle and niece is allowed in Norway, Argentina and Russia.

Another big hurdle is that some states recognize common law marriages and others do not. Common law marriages are marriages where people live as husband and wife without purchasing marriage license or having a wedding ceremony.

So, the question: “If I got married in a foreign country, am I still married in the United States?” is a great question with a complex, ever changing answer.

Let us know if we, The Manely Firm, P.C.,  can help you with any questions related to Family Law and International Family law.

Dina R. Khismatulina