Defective Marriages in Arizona

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Defective Marriage

For a marriage to be legal in Arizona, there must be (1) a license, (2) a ceremony before an authorized officiant and two witnesses, and (4) the ceremony is held before the license expires.

Additionally, the parties themselves must be (1) single, and (2) old enough to get married.

Now let’s consider what happens when these requirements are not met.

Failure to get a license: Marriage is invalid

Two laws touch on why a license is an indispensable marriage requirement. A.R.S. § 25-111(B) explains a marriage is not valid without a license, and A.R.S. § 25-121(A) states people cannot be joined in marriage without first obtaining a marriage license. In sum, no license, no marriage.

For example, in the 1990s, an Arizona couple signed a contract to marry rather than get a license. They held a marriage ceremony with family and friends, but they never got a contract. A few years later, the “marriage” fell apart. The judge declared they were never married in the first place because they had not obtained a license. The Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s determination that the marriage was invalid, explaining that while marriage is a civil right, the state may control the forms and procedures necessary to make a marriage legally valid.  Moran v. Moran, 188 Ariz. 139, 144, (App. 1996)

Failure to record a marriage license after a ceremony: Does not automatically render the marriage invalid.

Officiants are required to file and record the marriage license after the ceremony. Sometimes, the officiant fails to do so. In State v. Guadagni, the Arizona Court of Appeals determined that an officiant’s failure to file and record the license does not render the marriage invalid.

Why treat the failure to record a license different than the failure to get a license in the first place? Because recording is on the officiant; obtaining the license is on the parties.

Failure to use an authorized officiant: Still valid if at least one of the parties, in good faith, believed the officiant was authorized to marry them.

In Arizona, people can be married by either a clergyman authorized by that faith to perform marriages or a judge. But what happens if the person who married turned out to not actually be authorized to marry you? Arizona will still recognize the marriage as valid if one of the parties genuinely believed that person was authorized to marry them. See A.R.S. § 25-111(B)(2).

This holds true even if the place where they were married would not recognize the marriage as valid. In Donlann v. Macgurn, 203 Ariz. 380 (App. 2002), a couple was married in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico by a female officiant; at the time, there were no female officiants in Puerto Vallarta allowed to perform marriages. The Arizona Court of Appeals, nonetheless, recognized the marriage as valid because the wife, in good faith, believed the officiant was authorized.

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