Marriage age in the United States

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General age of marriage (without parental or court approval or other exceptions taken into account) (only shows the 50 states, no territories)
  18
  19
  21

The marriage age in the United States is set by each state and territory, either by statute or the common law applies. An individual can marry in the United States as of right, without parental consent or other authorization, on reaching 18 years of age (and used to be 21 years of age before 1971) as that is the age of majority, in all states except in Nebraska, where the general marriage age is 19 as that is the age of majority and Mississippi, where the general marriage age is 21 as that is the age of majority. In Alabama, however, the age of majority is 19, while the general marriage age is 18.

The minimum marriage age was 12 years for females and 14 years for males under English civil law that applied until 1753. By default, these provisions became the minimum marriage ages in colonial America.[1] English common law inherited from the British remained in force in America unless and until a specific state enacted a law to replace it. In the United States, as in most developed countries, age restrictions have been revised upward so that they were, as at August, 2010, between 15 and 21 years.[1] Until 1971, approximately 80% of states specified an age of 18 for marriage without parental consent for women, and approximately 85% specified an age of 21 for men.[1]

When at least one of the marriage partners is under 18–21 years of age, the marriage is considered underage and requires parental consent and/or judicial authorization. Also, adolescents can marry with "exceptional circumstances”. In many states (but not in Massachusetts),[2] a minor's marriage automatically emancipates the minor, or increases his or her legal rights beyond allowing the minor to consent to certain medical treatments.[3] In all but four states, couples are allowed to marry at a younger age with parental consent and/or with judicial authorization, with the minimum marriage age, when all exemptions are taken into account, ranging from 15 to 17. The states which ban marriage under 18 years old completely are Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. In nine other states, a person over 21 years old can not marry a person under 18 years old.

History[edit]

Colonial America[edit]

Marriage law[edit]

The minimum marriage age was 12 years for females and 14 years for males under English civil law. By default, these provisions became the minimum marriage ages in colonial America.[1] The English Marriage Act 1753 required a marriage to be covered by a license (requiring parental consent for those under 21) or the publication of banns (which parents of those under 21 could forbid). Additionally, the Church of England dictated that both the bride and groom must be at least 21 years of age to marry without the consent of their families.

Rape law[edit]

In 1275, in England, as part of the rape law, the Statute of Westminster 1275, it was a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age", whether with or without her consent. The phrase "within age" was interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke to mean the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years.[4] A 1576 law imposed more severe punishments for ravishing a girl for which the age of consent was set at 10 years.[5] Jurist Sir Matthew Hale stated that both rape laws were valid at the same time.[6] Under English common law the age of consent, apart of the law of rape, was 10 or 12 years and rape was defined as forceful sexual intercourse with a woman against her will. To convict a man of rape, both force and lack of consent had to be proven, except in the case of a girl who was under the age of consent. Since the age of consent applied in all circumstances, not just in physical assaults, the law also made it impossible for a girl under 12 years to consent to sexual activity. There was one exception: a man's acts with his wife (females over 12 years), to which rape law did not apply.[7]

United States[edit]

Marriage law[edit]

English common law inherited from the British remained in force in the United States unless and until a specific state enacted a law to replace it. In the United States, as in most developed countries, age restrictions have been revised upward so that they are now between 15 and 21 years of age.[1]

There are three sets of marriage ages: 1) general marriage, which is the same as the age of majority and 2) minimum marriage age by statute and 3) minimum marriage age by common law. There are threes sets of laws specifying minimum age requirements for marriage: 1) the minimum age with parental and judicial or court consent, 2) the minimum age with parental consent, and 3) the minimum age without parental consent.

There is little variation over time or across states in the laws without parental consent.[1] Prior to 1971, approximately 80% of states specified an age of 18 for marriage without parental consent for women, and approximately 85% specified an age of 21 for men.[1]

In states without a legislated minimum, common law (which specifies a minimum of 12 years old for females and 14 years old for males) prevails; the estimated effect of a common law is similar to a legislated minimum of 13 or less[8] (Massachusetts has the lowest legislated minimum in any of the 50 states, of 12 years old for females and 14 years old for males,[9] but this is under the discretion of a judge and authorization must still be obtained from the Probate or District Court.[10]) In California, a person under 18 years old can marry with parental consent but judicial approval is also required.[11] California Civil Code (1872) "Males of the age of 18 years old and older and females of the age of 15 years old and older are capable of consenting to and consummating marriage." Section 56 of the California Civil Code (1872) fixed 15 as the age at which a female could marry without parental consent and in 1921 the age was raised to 18.[12]

Rape law[edit]

In Delaware, the age of consent was 10 years until 1871 when it was lowered to 7 years. The age of consent in question has to do with the law of rape and not the law of marriage as sometimes misunderstood. Under the 1871 law, a man was given the death penalty for sex with a girl below the age of consent.[7]

In 1880, 37 states set the age of consent at 10 years, 10 states set an age of consent at 12 years, and Delaware had an age of consent of 7 years.[13][14][15]

In California, early statutes forbid sexual intercourse with females under the age of 10,[16] following the English statute of 1576. In 1889, the California statute was amended to raise the age to 14 years[17] and the age was raised to 16 in 1897.[18][12]

In the late-19th century, a "social purity movement" composed of Christian feminist reform groups began advocating a raise in the age of consent to 16, with the goal of raising it ultimately to 18. By 1920, 26 states had an age of consent of 16, 21 states had an age of consent of 18, and one state (Georgia) had an age of consent of 14.[19]

Alaska became the 49th state in 1959, with the age of consent was 16 years. Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, with the age of consent of 14 years.

Georgia raised its age of consent from 14 to 16 in 1995 as did Hawaii in 2001. Colorado lowered its age of consent to 15 in 1971, after it lowered the age of majority from 21 to 18 years.

In 2007, the age of consent was 18 years in California and the age of consent was 16 years in Massachusetts.[20]

As of August 1, 2018, the age of consent in each state in the United States was either 16 years, 17 years, or 18 years.[21]

In California, the age of consent is 18 years and in Massachusetts, the age of consent is 16 years.[22]

Age of underage marriage by jurisdiction[edit]

In the 50 states[edit]

Every state except Delaware, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island[23] and New Jersey allows a person under 18 years old to marry:

If one or more of the following apply:

  • consent of the parents or legal guardians of the minor
  • consent of a court clerk or judge
  • if the minor is emancipated.

Or in exceptional circumstances if one or more of the following circumstances apply:

  • consent of a superior court judge, rather than a local judge, is required
  • if one of the parties is pregnant
  • if the minor has given birth to a child

In 6 states, a person who is 21 years old cannot marry a person under 18 years old - Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada. In 1 state, Florida, a person who is 20 cannot marry a person under 18 years old. In 3 states, Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio, a person who is 22 cannot marry a person under 18 years old. In Indiana, this is also mostly true, although a person who is 21 can marry a person who is 17 years old.

Minimum age in 50 states:[24]

From 2017[27][28] to 2019[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] several states changed their law to set a minimum age, or to raise their minimum age.

In Massachusetts the general marriage age is 18, but adolescents may be married with judicial consent. Unlike many other states,[2] in Massachusetts an adolescent's marriage does not automatically emancipate the minor, or increase his or her legal rights beyond allowing the minor to consent to certain medical treatments.[3]

In the territories and federal district[edit]

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and its people are American citizens. In Puerto Rico the general marriage age is 21 as that is the age of majority. The general marriage age in Puerto Rico is 21, however males aged 18 and females aged 16 can marry with exceptions.[37] In Guam, the general age is 18, but 16-year-olds can get married with the consent of at least one parent or guardian.[38] In American Samoa, since September 2018, the marriage age has been 18 for both sexes. Previously, the marriage age for females was 14.[39] American Samoa does not allow underage marriages. In the District of Columbia the general age is 18, but 16-year-olds may marry with exceptions.[37] In the U.S. Virgin Islands the marriage age is 14 for females and 16 for males.[40] In the Northern Mariana Islands males must be 18 to marry, while females can marry at 16 with parental consent.[41]

List[edit]

States[edit]

Name Marriage age Notes
General marriage age Minimum marriage age Age of consent
 Alabama 18 16[42] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[42][26]
 Alaska 18 16,[42] 14 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[42][26] With parental consent and judicial approval a person can marry at 14.[43]
 Arizona 18 16[42] 18 A person can marry at 16, as long as one party isn't more than three years older than the minor, and 1) their parent consents, or 2) they are emancipated.[42][26]
 Arkansas 18 17[42] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 17.[42][26]
 California 18 (lowered from 21 in 1971)[11] 16, 18 18 The age of consent is 18. However, an emancipation of minors exception exists (14 years old and older).[44] With parental consent and judicial approval, a person can marry under the age of eighteen but the adolescent partners and the minor's parents have to meet with court officials who must rule out abuse or coercion. There is a 30-day waiting period for minors unless they are seventeen and have graduated high school or one of the partners is pregnant.[42] Age of consent for statutory rape law is 18 years old[22] but a marital exception exists for married adolescent partners and an exception exists for consensual sex between a minor and a person who is three or fewer years older or younger.[45]
 Colorado 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent and a court order based on "the best interest of the child," and no more than a three-year age gap, a child can marry at 16.[25]
 Connecticut[27] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Delaware 18 18[25] 18 Minors cannot marry.[25]
 Florida 18 17[25] 18 With parental consent and judicial approval, a person can marry at 17 as long as one party isn't more than two years older than the minor.[25]
 Georgia 18 17[25] 18 Emancipated minors who are 17 can marry after completing a premarital education course but not to someone more than four years older.[25]
 Hawaii[46] 18 16,[25][47] 15 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person who is 15 can marry with parental consent and judicial approval.[25][47]
 Idaho 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16 or 17, but only if there is no more than a three-year age gap between the two parties.[25]
 Illinois[46] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Indiana 18 16[25][48] 18 16- or 17-year-olds can marry someone no more than four years older with approval from a juvenile court judge.[25][49]
 Iowa[46] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Kansas[46] 18 16,[25] 15 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. With judicial approval, a person can marry at 15.[25]
 Kentucky 18 17[25] 18 With judicial approval, a person can marry at 17.[25]
 Louisiana 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent and judicial approval, a minor who is 16 or 17 can marry a person less than three years older. A person under 16 can marry.[25]
 Maine 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person under 16 cannot marry.[25]
 Maryland[46] 18 15[25] 18 With parental consent or proof of pregnancy/birth of a child, parties can marry at 16. A person can marry at 15 with parental consent and there's proof the female is pregnant or has given birth to a child.[25]
 Massachusetts[46] 18 12 years for females and 14 years for males[25][26] 18 With parental consent and judicial approval, a person can marry under the age of 18[25] but no lower than the age of 12 for females and 14 for males which is the legislated minimum.[26] Age of consent for statutory rape law is 16 years.[22]
 Michigan 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Minnesota 18 18[25] 18 Minors cannot marry.[25]
 Mississippi[46] 21 15 for females and 17 for males[25][26] 21 With parental consent, males can marry at 17 and females at 15.[25][26][50]
 Missouri 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person over 21 cannot marry someone under the age of 18.[25]
 Montana[46] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent and after at least two separate counseling sessions, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Nebraska[46] 19 17[25] 19 With parental consent, a person can marry at 17.[25]
 Nevada[51] 18 17 [51][52] 18 17 is the minimum age of marriage with 4 explicit requirements of - (1) parental or guardian consent; (2) proof of Nevada residence; (3) no more than a three-year age gap between both parties; and (4) a court order within the state.[53]
 New Hampshire[54] 18 16 18 With parental consent and the consent of the judge, a person can marry at 16.[42]
 New Jersey 18 18[25] 18 Minors cannot marry.[25]
 New Mexico 18 16[25][46] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[55] A 16 or 17 year old teen can marry with the written consent of each living parent of the minor.[56] A person under 16 can marry by order of a children's or family division of district court.[25]
 New York 18 17[25] 18 With parental and judicial consent, a person can marry at 17.[25] In June 2021, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to explicitly legally ban marriage licences to any person or party under 18 (with no exemptions, currently the law within New York State says 17 years old with both parents and a judge's approval - can legally access a marriage licence). The Governor of New York is yet to either sign or veto the bill.[57]
 North Carolina 18 16[24] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[24]
 North Dakota[46] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Ohio[58] 18 17 18 In 2019, the minimum age was set at 17, with judicial consent, in cases where the age difference is less than four years.[59]
 Oklahoma[46] 18 16,[42][26] None 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person under 16 may marry if authorized by the court.[42][26]
 Oregon[46] 18 17[42][26] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 17.[42][26] Consenting parent or guardian must accompany the applicant when applying for the marriage license.
 Pennsylvania[60] 18 18[42] 18 Minors cannot marry.[42]
 Rhode Island 18 18[48] 18 The marriage age is 18 with no exemptions.[61][48] In June 2021, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill to legally ban any child marriage of any person or party under 18 years old, without any exemptions whatsoever. The Governor of Rhode Island signed the bill into law effective immediately.[62][63]
 South Carolina[64] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 South Dakota[46] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25]
 Tennessee[33] 17[25] 18 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 17; however, one party cannot be more than four years older than the minor.[25]
 Texas[28] 18 16 [25] 18 Emancipated minors who are 16 or 17 years old can marry.[25]
 Utah[65] 18 16,[25] 15 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person can marry at age 15 with parental consent and judicial approval or court commissioner.[25]
 Vermont[46] 18 16,[25] 14 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16.[25] With parental consent and judicial approval, a person can marry at fourteen.[66]
 Virginia 18 16[25] 18 Minors can marry at 16 with court approval.[25]
 Washington[46] 18 17[25] 18 With judicial approval, a person can marry at 17.[25]
 West Virginia 18 16,[46] None 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person under 16 can marry with parental consent and judicial approval.[25]
 Wisconsin[46] 18 16[25] 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at age 16.[25]
 Wyoming[46] 18 16,[46] None 18 With parental consent, a person can marry at 16. A person under the age of 16 can marry with judicial approval.[25]

District of Columbia and United States Territories[edit]

Name Minimum age Notes
Minimum marriage age General marriage age
 American Samoa[67] 18 18 In September 2018, governor Lolo Moliga signed into law a bill changing the marriage age for girls from 14 to 18. The marriage age is now 18 for both sexes.[67]
 District of Columbia[46] 16 18
 Guam[68] 16 18 The consent of at least one parent or guardian is required for a person aged 16 or 17 to get married.
 Northern Mariana Islands 16 (females) 18 (males) 18 Males at the time of marriage must be at least 18 years of age, while females aged 16–17 can marry with the consent of at least one parent or guardian.[69]
 Puerto Rico[46] 16 (females) 18 (males) 21
 U.S. Virgin Islands 14 (females) 16 (males)[citation needed] 18[40]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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