Can First Cousins Marry In Arkansas? (Explained)

It is currently illegal for first cousins to marry in Arkansas.

First cousins once removed and other more distant relationships are allowed.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled that an out-of-state marriage between first cousins was valid when they returned to the state.

This article looks in-depth at aspects of cousin marriage in the state.

What Do The Arkansas Marriage Laws Say About First Cousins?

The Arkansas marriage laws have quite a long list of relationships that are prohibited.

All marriages between parents and children, including grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between brothers and sisters of the half as well as the whole blood, and between uncles and nieces, and between aunts and nephews, and between first cousins are declared to be incestuous and absolutely void.

Arkansas marriage laws

As you can see, first cousins are explicitly named at the end of the list.

However, first cousins once removed and other cousin relationships are not named.

Blanket ban

Some other states generally don’t allow first cousin marriage but have some allowances based on age or other criteria.

In contrast, Arkansas has a blanket ban within the state. There are no special exceptions.

How first cousins are legal in other states

Many other states have similar long lists of prohibited relationships in their marriage laws. But they stop short of mentioning first cousins.

Their laws don’t say explicitly that first cousins can marry. They simply don’t mention the relationship in their restrictions.

That’s why these marriages are legal in these other states.

Marriage In Arkansas

Types Of Cousins That Can Get Married In Arkansas

Other types of cousins can get married in Arkansas.

For example, marriages between first cousins once removed are permitted. The children of your first cousins are your first cousins once removed.

If you’re not sure what the different types of relationships mean, check out the links below to articles with easy-to-understand explanations.

What Would Happen If First Cousins Marry In Arkansas?

Under the marriage laws, both spouses are guilty of a misdemeanor.

The officials who solemnize the marriage are also guilty if they knew about the relationship.

What if the couple didn’t know at the time?

An invalid marriage should be grounds for an annulment.

There have been cases in other states where marriages were successfully annulled when the couple told the courts they hadn’t known they were close cousins.

If you find yourself in this position, you should consult a lawyer as quickly as possible.

What are the penalties?

The laws state that this is a misdemeanor. A conviction could bring a fine, imprisonment, or both.

We haven’t found any examples of convictions in recent years.

Does The Arkansas Marriage Application Form Ask If You’re Related?

Some U.S. states have a section in their marriage application forms where the couple must state whether they have a blood relationship.

You can see an example in our article on first cousin marriages in Massachusetts.

We reviewed the Arkansas form in 2022. There is no such question present.

This may be why at least one first cousin couple has married in the state while unaware of the laws.

Does Arkansas Recognize First Cousin Marriages From Other States?

The laws in some states explicitly state that they consider first cousin marriages from other states to be void. In other words, marriages that are legal elsewhere are considered to be invalid.

Arkansas does not have a similar law on the statute books. This absence doesn’t necessarily mean that Arkansas recognizes out-of-state marriages.

However, the Arkansas Supreme Court made a ruling in 1986 which recognized a specific marriage.

The case of Etheridge vs Shaddock

Mr. Shaddock was a resident of Arkansas. He divorced his first wife in 1984 and was granted custody of his children.

He then married his first cousin. The pair did not know that this was prohibited by Arkansas law.

His ex-wife then filed for custody of their children on the grounds that Shaddock was in an illegal marriage.

The two cousins immediately annulled their marriage in Arkansas by admitting to the court that it was invalid.

They traveled post-haste to Texas where first cousins were allowed to marry at that time.

They tied the knot in the Lone Star state and returned to reside in Arkansas.

The Supreme Court had to decide on whether the custody challenge over an illegal marriage now had a leg to stand on. In other words, did they see Shaddock as married or not?

Supreme Court decision

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the out-of-state marriage was valid in Arkansas.

Their decision was based on their view that although a first cousin marriage was illegal in their state, it wouldn’t cause “much social alarm”.

They drew the distinction between first cousins and a brother and sister.

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems that the judges were saying that first cousin marriages were pretty much harmless to general society. Therefore, the state is cool with ones that are conducted elsewhere.

It seems rather hypocritical. Not on the part of the judges, but on the part of the Arkansas legislators who persist with this situation.

Nearby States That Allow Cousin Marriages

Arkansas is bordered by Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

Of these states, Missouri and Tennessee allow first cousin marriages.

Arkansas Neighbors

Looking for a destination wedding spot?

Do you live in a state or country where first cousin marriage is legal and you simply wanted to visit Arkansas as a destination wedding spot?

Consider these other states as alternative options in the region!

Looking to relocate?

As explained earlier, Arkansas recognizes first cousin marriages conducted legally in another state.

You should review your future plans carefully. Would you ever intend to move permanently to another state? Unlike Arkansas, some will not recognize your legal marriage.

Roman Catholic Marriages

Even if close cousins travel to another state that allows their civil marriage, they will face separate hurdles if they want a wedding in a Roman Catholic church.

Historically, the Catholic Church hasn’t encouraged first cousin marriages. However, the church laws have been relaxed somewhat in recent years.

There is a process that first cousins need to go through with the hierarchy in order to get permission to marry in a church ceremony. This is known as a dispensation.

We explain in detail in our general article on first cousins (scroll down to the bottom).

What about second cousins?

Second cousins (and further out) don’t need to get special permission for a Catholic Church marriage.

If you’re not sure about whether you are first or second cousins, check out our article that explains what second cousins are. It has diagrams that make it clear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some quick answers to common questions.

Does Arkansas allow relatives to marry?

Arkansas does not allow close relatives to marry.

More distant relatives such as second cousins are allowed to marry in the state.

Can you marry a sibling in Arkansas?

Arkansas does not allow siblings to marry. Half-siblings are also not allowed to marry in the state.

Is it legal to marry your second cousin in Arkansas?

Marriage between second cousins is legal in Arkansas.


The codes and laws referenced in this article may not be the most recent version. Delaware may have more current or accurate information.

We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or the information linked to on other sites. Please check official sources.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

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