Can I Get Married If I’m Under 18?
If you’re asking this question, you’re more than likely a young person who wants to marry but isn’t sure whether you’re old enough. For that reason, this article has to begin with the caveat that there are a lot of problems associated with early marriage. For openers, if you marry when you’re young, you won’t have the opportunity to date and be exposed to a number of people in your peer group. Although this may not seem important right now (when you’re in love), it will become important later on, if you come to realize that you and your spouse aren’t all that compatible and that someone else might have been a better fit.
People who marry earlier also tend to be less educated, to earn less money, to be unemployed for longer periods, to be the victims and the perpetrators of crime, and to have children who aren’t as healthy as their peers.
Researchers have long known who gets married early, and why. According to a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family:
- 25% of women and 16% of men marry before they turn 23.
- People who marry at younger ages are more likely to be from very religious or economically disadvantaged families.
- People who enter into early marriages tend to do so to escape undesirable home situations or because they believe marriage affords them more benefits than their parents can.
- People who marry younger are more likely to come from impoverished rural communities or from the South.
That said, if you’ve carefully weighed out the pros and cons of underage marriage and you’ve had an open conversation with your parents about it, you should learn more about the legal aspects of getting married as a minor.
State by State
There’s no quick answer to the question of whether you can marry if you’re under 18—you have to become familiar with the law in your state. The best way to find out would be to go to your local courthouse and discuss the matter with the clerk of court. Another option would be to go to your local law library or your state’s judicial branch website. All three options are free and should supply you with the information you need.
Another way to browse marriage information is to read this page from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute. You’ll notice there are a variety of different age ranges and different legal requirements for each state.
In the meantime, you should know that the minimum age to marry without parental consent is, in the vast majority of cases, 18. This means that if you’re under 18, you can’t legally agree to form a marriage with another person unless you have parental consent (and, in some states, a judge's approval—this is called “judicial bypass”). In almost every case, you need your parents’ permission to marry. This is because in the eyes of the law, if you haven’t reached the age of majority (18 in most places), you aren’t old enough to enter into the serious contract of marriage.
As you learn more about parental consent and underage marriage, you’ll see that as a general rule, marriage is allowed at 16 if there’s parental consent, and 18 if there’s not. Many states allow people younger than 16 to marry, with parental consent, provided that one of the spouses is pregnant. There are also miscellaneous requirements from state to state, including:
- spouses must prove they’ve completed premarital counseling
- spouses must endure a brief waiting period (the length varies from state to state)
- in some states, spouses must submit to medical testing, including physical examinations, blood tests, HIV counseling, and sickle cell testing, and/or
- spouses must file an “affidavit of non-affliction,” which is a sworn statement that neither has a contagious sexually transmitted infection.
Your state may or may not have any of these types of requirements. Talk to the clerk of court or local law librarian about this topic so that if you get married, no one can come back later and say your marriage was invalid because you failed to comply with all the requirements.
Don’t Jump the Gun
No matter how badly you want to get married, do not lie or deceive the officials involved in the marriage process. Lying or failing to complete all the requirements means that your marriage won’t be valid, and if that’s the case, you might just as well have lived together or even just stayed in your parents’ homes. Also, make sure you get your parents’ consent if you need it. If you don’t have that consent and your parents find out, they can annul (invalidate) your marriage and not only will that mean you’ll be ripped away from your partner, but could also be in legal trouble if you signed any contracts or leases.
If you have questions, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.