Family Law Blog

What is Marriage?

Jun 15, 2017 by Paul B. Hervey


It is the threshold question that family law practitioners have to ask, one that can have important consequences for both parties. What makes a marriage?  In Ohio, two parties have to apply for a license at their local probate court, have the marriage solemnized by a proper party (minister, mayor, etc.), and return the proof of marriage to the court.  Men can marry at 18, but women can marry at 16 or 17 with their parents’ permission. (1)  

Ohio courts recognize the validity of marriages done in other states and even in other countries. However, Ohio abolished “common law” marriages in 1979, approximately 225 years after England did so. (2)  Ohio will recognize a common law marriage from another state or one created in Ohio prior to 1979, but it is a very rare occurrence. Financially, if parties are not married, it is much tougher for a party to claim an interest in the other party’s personal property or real estate. 

There are no Federal laws defining marriage and it is usually a decision left to the states. However, the United States Constitution requires equal protection under the law. That is why interracial marriages were protected by the United States Supreme Court in 1967 (2), and why same-sex marriages are now recognized in every state. (3) 


Links to the law: 

(1) ORC §3101.01(A)

(2) Interestingly, when England abolished common law marriage, it caused some Englishmen to travel to Scotland when they could not get their wedding sanctioned by the Church of England.

(3) Loving v. Virginia, 1967

(4) Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015


The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.