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In Tennessee, marriage is controlled by statute and not governed by common law rules. Obtaining a marriage license is a condition precedent to the solemnization of a valid marriage under Tennessee law. See, e.g., Ochalek v. Richmond, 2008 WL 2600692 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008), and cases cited therein. See also Op. Tenn. Att'y Gen. 06-110 (July 12, 2006) (no one can be legally married in Tennessee without first obtaining a valid marriage license). Marriage licenses are issued by the county clerk. T.C.A. § 36-3-103.


Marriage is a civil contract, Cole v. Cole, 37 Tenn. 57, 5 Sneed 57 (Tenn. 1857), but unlike most civil contracts that can be voluntarily entered into and terminated by the parties, marriages contracted under Tennessee law require state action to be entered into and to be dissolved. Public policy considerations make the marriage contract one of the most ceremonious and serious contracts a person enters and the public policy of Tennessee is to sustain the validity of marriages. Madewell v. U.S., 84 F. Supp. 329 (D. C. Tenn. 1949).

Forced marriages are against public policy in Tennessee.  A marriage entered into without valid, freely-given consent from both parties is void and unenforceable upon a court's finding of forced marriage, under T.C.A. § 36-3-201.  A party who is forced into marriage, whether by violence, threats, or coercion, has a cause of action against any party who forced the person to marry.  Damages include liquidated damages of two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000), attorneys' fees, and court costs.