WINSTON COUNTY - Beginning tomorrow, Aug. 29, the procedure of uniting in marriage in Alabama will change, and the jury is still out on whether the new method will be for the better or worse.
Act 2019-340 passed by the Alabama Legislature in the spring abolishes the requirement for couples getting married to apply for a marriage license, as well as the need to have a ceremony in order to be considered married. Instead, all couples have to do to be considered married is fill out an Alabama Marriage Certificate Form provided by the state, have it notarized and delivering the original form to their county’s probate judge’s office within 30 days of the date of the signatures and notarization of the form, as well as pay a fee.
Winston County Probate Judge Sheila Moore noted that the new law will create several changes for her office, with one of the most significant being that the Probate Judge’s office will no longer issue marriage licenses.
"This new law is coming from an act the legislature passed," Moore said. "There is no longer a marriage license. There is an Alabama marriage certificate."
Moore said that the marriage certificate forms will not be available at her office.
"This bill took it out of the hands of probate judges," Moore said about the marriage certificates. However, Moore plans to have the form and its accompanying directions available on the Winston County Probate Judge's website, www.winstoncountyprobate.org. The form will not have an auto-fill option but will have to be printed out. There will also be an instruction sheet listing step-by-step how to go about filling out the form. Moore is not required to provide this information on the website, but is doing so as a courtesy to the citizens of Winston County.
The Alabama Marriage Certificate form is very specific and must be filled out correctly in order for a marriage to be considered legal. Forms must be printed out on 8 1/2 x 11 white or very light colored paper, with the information typed or written legibly in preferably black ink. Blue ink will be allowed, but no other colors of ink will be acceptable, Moore said. Forms with whiteout on them could be rejected by the state department of public health.
Once the form is completely filled out, the couple must each sign the form and have it notarized. The Winston County Probate Judge’s office will not be able to notarize the certificates, Moore said.
"This office cannot notarize anything that will be filed within this office," Moore said. "They will have to find a notary."
Notaries are available at many locations, including banks, public libraries and some pharmacies. A couple’s personal bank should provide notary services for free, but there may be a charge for notary services. Under Alabama law, a notary public is able to charge $5 for each signature that is notarized and for each official act performed. Notaries who drive to meet with someone can also charge an additional fee or fees to compensate them for the expense of travel; Alabama does not set limits on what a notary can charge for travel.
A list of commissioned notaries is available at the Alabama Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.alabama.gov/administrative-services/notaries-public.
Moore has some advice for local notaries who may be planning to notarize the new marriage certifciate forms. She recommends all area notaries follow the state law and keep a log listing the persons for whom they are notarizing documents, with the date the documents were notarized. Moore suggests that notaries ask for identification from couples to make sure everything is in order and to make sure the person is of sound mind and understands what he or she is signing. Notaries should also make sure all the blocks on the certificate have been filled out before notarizing the document.
Once the form is filled out, signed and notarized, it must be hand delivered to a county probate judge’s office to be recorded. This must take place within 30 days of the latest signature on the form or the marriage will be invalid. The form must be brought brought in to the probate judge’s office in person, along with the fee.
If the form is brought in, but is filled out incorrectly, it will be refused and the couple will have to start the process all over again.
"We can not be liable for telling people what has to be fixed. If they are not 100 percent sure, they need to get someone else to help them fill the form out. Read the instructions," Moore said.
Moore also noted that the form must be the original, not a copy, in order to be accepted.
"It has to be the original. It cannot be a copy. We have to forward the original to the State Department of Public Health," Moore said.
The fee to have the marriage recorded is $74 in Winston County, and the couple will receive a certified copy of the form. Any additional certified copies of the form will be an additional $3 each.
If someone makes a mistake on the form and needs an amended copy, an additional $74 fee will be assessed.
"Couples need to be very careful that all the information is correct," Moore said.
New law still allows for marriage
While there is no longer a requirement for a couple to hold a marriage ceremony or solemnize marriage vows in order to be considered married, couples who wish to have a ceremony can still do so under the new law. Couples will need to make sure that in order for the date of their marriage ceremony to be considered the date they are legally married, they will have to have their Alabama Marriage Certificate form completed, signed, dated and notarized on the same date as the marriage ceremony.
Moore suggested that some ministers might want to consider becoming notaries.
"If they are performing marriage ceremonies, they can notarize the form as the witness of having seen the couple married," Moore said.
Moore no longer performs marriage ceremonies.
minors wishing to marry
The new law states that persons 16-17 years of age who have not been previously married must not only fill out the Alabama Marriage Certificate form, date it and have it notarized, but also have at least one parent or guardian fill out, sign and have notarized an Affidavit of Consent for Marriage of a Minor form. This form will need to be presented along with the marriage certificate form at the same time to the probate judge’s office in order for the marriage to be considered legal.
on new law
According to LegiScan, the new law began life as Senate Bill 69, introduced by Senator Greg Allbritton (R). When it came up for a vote this spring, State Senator Greg Reed - who represents a portion of Winston County in the legislature - voted in favor of the bill, while Winston County’s other Senator, Garlan Gudger, was absent the day the vote took place.
In the Alabama House, Winston County’s representatives Tracy Estes and Proncey Robertson voted in favor of the bill, while Tim Wadsworth abstained from the vote, according to LegiScan.
Moore emphasized that this new procedure was created by the state, not her office.
"This is not a law that I passed. This law was not passed to discredit any group of people. This was passed by the legislature," Moore said. “I do not necessarily agree with it, but I have to abide by it.”
Moore hopes the new law will see a smooth enactment, but does have concerns for those who live in rural areas not having efficient access to the forms they need due to poor internet connections.
"A lot of people think this is going to be easier, but I'm afraid it might be a little more difficult for some people who don't have access to a computer,” Moore said.
Along with the Winston County Probate Judge’s office website, the new Alabama Marriage Certificate form is available at http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/vitalrecords/marriage-certificate.html. Here, the form will be in a fillable PDF format where the information can be typed in, then printed.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.