There are plenty of spouses in Tennessee who have spent years together believing they were married, but in fact, they’re not really married. It’s not so uncommon for spouses to be confused about their marital statuses like this.
In Tennessee, for example, a marriage performed by a minister ordained via certain online websites like Universal Life Church are not legally allowed to perform a marriage ceremony. Those married by these individuals are not actually married under the law.
There are numerous online ordination websites that offer individuals the ability to receive a certificate of ordination. As real as these certificates appear — and even though the Universal Life Church has ordained 18 million people around the world since 1959 when the organization was founded in California — such ordainments do not meet the legal qualifications of the state of Tennessee for performing marriage ceremonies.
According to a Tennessee family law code amendment from 1988:
“In order to solemnize the rite of marriage, any such minister, preacher, pastor, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader must be ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple or other religious group or organization; and such customs must provide for such ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act.”
Unfortunately, online ordinations don’t meet the above qualifications under Tennessee law. The bottom line is that couples looking to get married may want to educate themselves on the law of what constitutes a legal marriage in Tennessee, who is capable of performing such a marriage and then taking the appropriate steps to ensure that they have a lawful marriage ceremony.
Source: The Commercial Appeal, “Are you sure you're really married? It might be worth taking a look at who married you,” Ron Maxey, March 12, 2018