Obtaining a Marriage in Kentucky

General Information

To get married in Kentucky, would-be spouses must:

  1. Obtain a marriage license;
  2. Have a proper marriage ceremony; and
  3. Have their marriage certificate forwarded to the proper state agencies.

Marriage License

Marriage licenses are issued by the County Clerk’s office, usually the one where female resides. KRS 402.080. The parties must appear together and complete a form which includes basic information about each future spouse: full name, date of birth, current residence, etc. KRS 402.100(1). The fee is approximately $25. See KRS 64.012(1)(n) and KRS 213.116(2).

There is no statutory waiting period, meaning the license may be issued the same day. However, the license is only valid for 30 days, meaning the parties must have the marriage ceremony within 30 days or another marriage license would need to be obtained. KRS 402.105. The parties need not be married in the same county where they received the marriage license but the marriage license is only valid in Kentucky.

Marriage Ceremony

After obtaining a marriage license, a man and woman may be married only at a marriage ceremony in which a proper individual solemnized the marriage. By law, those available to solemnize a marriage include:

  • Justices and judges, including those retired but not those removed for cause. KRS 402.050(1)(b).
  • Ministers and priests of any denomination with any religious society. KRS 402.050(1)(a).

However, according to KRS 402.070, a marriage will not be invalid if the person solemnizing the marriage did not have valid authority to do so and one of the spouses was unaware of this fact. The only other requirement of the marriage ceremony is that at least two persons other than those being married and the person solemnizing the marriage must be present as witnesses. KRS 402.050(2).

Marriage Certificate

Following the marriage ceremony, the person who solemnized the marriage must return the marriage license to the County Clerk’s office where it was issued within one month. The certificate must be signed by such person and include basic details concerning the ceremony: date, place, names of at least two witnesses, etc. KRS 402.220. The County Clerk keeps the certificate and also forwards the relevant information to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Office of Vital Statistics.


Under certain circumstances, it may be difficult to obtain a marriage license or gain legal permission to marry. Such circumstances include:

  1. Age (at least one party is under 18)
  2. Mental Disability
  3. Existing Prior Marriage (at least one party is still married)


According to KRS 402.020(1)(f), marriage is available to persons under age 18 only under specific circumstances where proper consent is obtained. If either party is under 16, consent must be obtained by a District Judge. If either party is under 18 but over 16, consent must be obtained from the parties’ parent(s) or custodial guardian(s). In either case, a specific legal procedure must be followed to demonstrate to the Court that the decision to marry has been fully and rationally considered.

Mental Disability

According to KRS 402.020(1)(a), marriage is prohibited where a would-be spouse has been adjudged mentally disabled by a court of competent jurisdiction. Usually this means the person has been placed under a guardianship by a Kentucky court, but it could mean the person has a recognized mental handicap that raises doubt as to his or her ability to understand the legal significance of entering marriage. In such a circumstance, a Motion must be filed with the Court and a hearing must be had to prove sufficient mental capacity to obtain a judge’s permission to marry.

Existing Prior Marriage

According to KRS 402.020(1)(b)&(e), marriage is prohibited between more than two persons, and someone who was previously married but not previously divorced may not marry again. This situation most commonly arises when a would-be spouse wants to remarry but cannot find or contact a former spouse. In such a circumstance, the married party must bring an ex parte divorce action against the absent spouse. In the legal action, this person or his/her attorney must ensure that proper notice is provided to the absent spouse, usually via Warning Order Attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is “common law marriage” and does Kentucky recognize it?
    • Common law marriage, sometimes called “de facto” marriage, occurs when the parties agree to be married to each other and hold themselves out as husband and wife to the rest of the community without undergoing the formal state-sanctioned marriage proceedings. Kentucky does not recognize common law marriages contracted within Kentucky. Pendleton v. Pendleton, 531 S.W.2d 507, 509-510 (Ky. 1976). Therefore, parties who allegedly entered into a common law marriage in Kentucky may not use Kentucky courts to formally adjudicate their divorce or related issues.Kentucky does however recognize a common law marriage valid in the state in which it was contracted. Glidewell v. Glidewell, 790 S.W.2d 925 (Ky. Ct. App. 1990). To prove a valid common law marriage entered into in another state, the parties must demonstrate that the law of the state in which the marriage was contracted permits common law marriage, and that the requirements of the law have been met in their case.
  • Is there a legal action available for failure to get married?
    • No, Kentucky does not recognize the legal action once known as breach of promise to marry, whereby one party unilaterally terminates a promise to marry. However, economic losses related to the promise to marry (such as an unreturned engagement ring, funds expended in anticipation of a wedding, etc.) may be recoverable under a breach of contract or conversion theory. See, e.g., Gilbert v. Barkes, 987 S.W.2d 772 (Ky. 1999).

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Assistance in Obtaining a Marriage

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