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Marriage of Emancipated Minors

Written by Dr. Madeleine Roberts
Published on May 15, 2024
Research Highlights

See the related Science Note Legal Marriage Age.

In MO, people over the age of 18 are considered adults, with full legal obligations and privileges. People under the age of 18 are considered to be minors and are legally restricted in the decisions they can make for themselves. Petitioning the court for emancipation grants a minor the rights and responsibilities of an adult. The court is responsible for ensuring the maturity and self-sufficiency of the minor seeking emancipation. Emancipated minors can independently consent to medical care, enter binding contracts (including signing a lease, taking out a loan), establish their own residence, enroll in secondary education, and register vehicles.

Some states do not allow people under the age of 18 to marry with no exceptions, which includes CT, DE, MA, MI, MN, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WA. In these states, emancipation is not an exception to their legal marriage age.

Other states allow for limited exceptions that permit emancipated minors between 16-17 years old to marry. GA, IN, OH, KY, TX, VA require a minor to be court-emancipated prior to marriage. WY and AZ specify that emancipated minors can marry without court authorization. KY and GA require a 15 day waiting period between emancipation and marriage. Pending legislation in VA would not allow a minor to be married by declaring emancipation.

Court emancipation prior to marriage allows a minor to leave their parent’s home and establish independent residence if parental coercion is a contributing factor in seeking marriage. Additionally, the ability to independently manage finances, access educational opportunities, sign leases and loans, and petition the court allow a married minor to successfully live independently and access divorce if necessary. In states where married minors are not emancipated, they may not have these rights.

To that end, CO clarifies the independent legal rights of a married minor who is not emancipated, including establishing residence, the right to enter binding contracts, the right to file motions and petitions with the court, and the right to consent to medical care.

In some states where a minor is emancipating to marry, additional protective criteria may apply, including the appointment of a guardian ad litem to the minor. An investigation may be required to assess the minor’s ability to independently manage their financial, personal, and educational affairs, whether the marriage is in the minor’s best interest, if the minor is being coerced, and the criminal record/protective order history of the potential spouse.

*NOTE: This memo was written in response to a specific legislator request and is meant to supplement the research contained in the following full Science Note: Legal Marriage Age

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