In the US, is It Illegal to get Married Before You'Re 18?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The laws of each state determine the minimum age requirements for getting married. In almost every state it is not strictly illegal for someone to get married under the age of 18, although few states make the process pain-free. Some form of parental or supervisory permission is required in order for most teenagers to become married in the United States. Exceptions are generally made only for legally emancipated teens who are no longer under adult supervision.

The legal marrying age varies by state.
The legal marrying age varies by state.

Under most current state laws, a minor couple seeking to get married must go through the same process as adults seeking legally married status. In many states, a couple must first obtain a marriage license through a local probate office or magistrate. Underage couples may have a difficult time with this process, since the application often requires valid photographic identification. A 14 or 15 year old seeking to get married may not have a valid driver's license to establish identity.

Jail time is one possible consequence for an adult having sexual relations with a minor.
Jail time is one possible consequence for an adult having sexual relations with a minor.

Even with a valid marriage license and a parental consent form, a teen seeking to get married may still have difficulty finding a licensed minister to perform the wedding. Because the rate of failed marriages among underage couples is so high, a number of religious leaders often counsel teen couples to wait several years before getting married. Underage couples can still seek a civil marriage through a city or county magistrate's office, but there could still be several legal obstacles to overcome.

Couples under 18 can legally marry, but they must have parental consent.
Couples under 18 can legally marry, but they must have parental consent.

The problems faced by those under 18 seeking to get married are often compounded by conflicting state and federal laws. Engaging in sexual intercourse, whether consensual or non-consensual, with a person under the age of 18 is often considered a crime called statutory rape. Some states may lower the age of consent to 16, but a 19 year old male can be jailed for having consensual sex with his 15 year old girlfriend. If the couple were legally married, however, the same act between husband and wife would not be criminally actionable.

Few parents would ever want to see their 14 year old daughter become pregnant, but that scenario is becoming more common as teens become sexually active at earlier ages. Having the option of getting married would provide a means for the young couple to qualify for available services.

Underage couples can seek a civil marriage, but there would still be legal obstacles for them.
Underage couples can seek a civil marriage, but there would still be legal obstacles for them.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

An emancipated minor can generally get married without any trouble. Still, I'd hope teens would think twice (or three times, really) before jumping into marriage. It takes a certain amount of maturity to stay married and people do seem to be a bit casual about the entire institution these days.

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