How Young Is Too Young to Get Married in Virginia?
Last month, PBS’ Frontline Dispatch did some reporting on the answer to a simple question: How young is too young to get married in this country? Of course, the answer is not so simple. The report highlighted that the answers vary state by state, which begs another question: How young is too young to get married in Virginia?
Summary of Frontline Report:
The report centered around one particular story. A 14-year old girl, Heather, had a 24-year old boyfriend. When Heather got pregnant, her family was concerned as any family would be in this kind of situation. While they worked through the various options for how to handle this new pregnancy, a realization came upon them. Aaron, the boyfriend, might be in some trouble.
You see, Aaron had gotten a 14-year old girl pregnant, which means that he committed statutory rape based on the definition of the law in their state. Heather loved Aaron, though, and the family wanted to do the best thing they could in this difficult situation. They thought that, maybe if the two got married, this married couple would be able to raise this new baby and Aaron would stay out of jail.
There was a problem, though. Their state would not let them do it. They shopped around, so to speak, to see what the marriage laws were in every state. They found a state that would marry their daughter to this man, her boyfriend, their grandchild’s father.
It didn’t work. The couple was able to get married, but the boyfriend still went to prison. The court did not see the marriage as legitimate; in fact, it was legally annulled.
Legal Age of Marriage in Virginia:
This story has so many layers, but it begs the question raised at the top of this post. What is the legal age of marriage in the state in which we live? What is the law in Virginia?
Section 20 of the Code of Virginia provides the answer. “The minimum age at which persons may marry shall be 18, unless a minor has been emancipated by court order. Upon application for a marriage license, an emancipated minor shall provide a certified copy of the order of emancipation.” Seems simple enough, right? You have to be 18 to get married. Well, not necessarily.
Emancipation occurs when a resident of Virginia who is at least 16 years old petitions the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. This petition requests that the minor in this situation no longer be under the care and custody of his or her parents/guardians. If the court approves this petition, then the minor is emancipated and can choose to marry.
There is a special section of the Code of Virginia that brings these two ideas – emancipation and marriage petition of a minor – together.
· In order to be legally allowed to marry as an emancipated minor, the minor must show that this is what he or she wants, without any coercion.
· He or she must demonstrate enough maturity to make this kind of life-changing decision.
· The minor’s safety must not be in danger; this is why the criminal history of both parties in the marriage is requested. A criminal history could show the court that there is danger to the minor in the marriage and use it to deny the request.
· It also has to be in the minor’s best interests to get married. The law specifically states that pregnancy and the will of the minor’s parents are not sufficient alone to grant these marriage requests.
There are a lot of legal implications surrounding issues of these kinds – emancipation, marriage petitions, statutory rape accusations, etc. A really good attorney is needed to wade through these issues with you. If you are in need of legal advice, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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