Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Recent Developments in Tennessee Regarding Marriage and Divorce
A Tennessee court ruled that a marriage was valid despite the husband's claim that the officiating clergyman was not qualified to perform marriages and had failed to return a signed marriage license to the county clerk within three days of the marriage as required by law.
Tennessee
State:
Key point. A person's legal authority to solemnize marriages is determined by the tenets of his or her religion.
Key point. A marriage is not necessarily void because a technical requirement is not met.

A Tennessee court ruled that a marriage was valid despite the husband's claim that the officiating clergyman was not qualified to perform marriages and had failed to return a signed marriage license to the county clerk within three days of the marriage as required by law. An Iranian couple living in Tennessee were formally engaged in Iran in October of 1994. After returning to Tennessee, the man negotiated a marriage contract the woman's father in accordance with Islamic custom. In this contract, the man agreed that his future wife's dowry would be 1,400 Iranian gold coins and that he would pay her 10,000 Iranian gold coins if he violated any provision of the contract. Because Islamic law permits a man to have four wives, the man also agreed that he would not marry anyone else if the parties ever returned to live in Iran. The couple obtained a marriage license from the county clerk's office in December of 1994. The man asked an acquaintance, Mr. Tarahian, to perform an Islamic "blessing" for the couple. A "blessing" is a formalized ceremony intended to hold out a couple as being married. Mr. Tarahian was not an "imam" (an Islamic spiritual leader roughly equivalent to a pastor or priest). On December 17, 1994, Mr. Tarahian blessed the couple in the presence of four witnesses. Following the ceremony, the couple and Mr. Tarahian signed a marriage certificate that was filed with a mosque in Nashville. Mr. Tarahian did not, however, receive or sign the Tennessee marriage license. The husband kept this document because it was one of the documents required to be filed with the government of Iran in order to make an official record of the marriage in that country. The couple could not begin living together as husband and wife following the blessing because Islamic custom required them to first have a formal wedding reception. A formal wedding reception took place on December 30, 1994. Problems arose within days of the reception. The husband informed his wife that he would not record their marriage license unless she would agree to sign another premarital agreement and relinquish her dowry and earlier marriage contract. He also asserted that their marriage was invalid because Mr. Tarahian did not have the authority to perform the Islamic blessing, and the marriage license was not filed with the county clerk's office within three days of the marriage as required by law. The parties separated in January of 1995. The wife and Mr. Tarahian later completed and filed another marriage license form. Mr. Tarahian signed the form as the officiant but did not date his signature or indicate on the form that he was an "imam". Apparently someone in the clerk's office added the date and the designation before filing the license with the Tennessee Department of Health. The husband did not sign this marriage license.

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Posted: January 1, 1999
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