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. When at least one of the marriage partners is under 18–21 years old, the marriage is considered an underage marriage, and requires “exceptional circumstances” to be permitted. This may be parental consent and/or judicial authorization, and there may be other requirements. In many states (but not in Massachusetts),[1] an adolescent's marriage automatically emancipates the minor, or increases his or her legal rights beyond allowing the minor to consent to certain medical treatments.[2]

In all but five states, couples are allowed to marry at a younger age with parental consent or with judicial authorisation, with the minimum marriage age, when all exemptions are taken into account, ranging from 15 to 17. The states which ban marriage under 18 completely are Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, West Virginia and Pennsylvania which no longer allow "exceptional circumstances" that permit underage marriages.

The minimum marriage age requirements of 12 years old for females and 14 years old for males were written into English civil law. By default, these provisions became the minimum marriage ages in colonial America.[3] English common law inherited from the British remained in force in America unless a specific state law was enacted to replace them. In the United States, as in most developed countries, age restrictions have been revised upward so that they are now (August, 2010) between 15 and 21 years of age.[3]

History[edit]

Colonial America[edit]

Marriage law[edit]

The minimum marriage age requirements of 12 years old for females and 14 years old for males were written into English civil law. By default, these provisions became the minimum marriage ages in colonial America.[3] In England, the 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, made it 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 as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years old.[4] A 1576 law was created with more severe punishments for ravishing a girl for which the age of consent was set at 10 years old.[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 old 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 proved, except in the case of a girl who is 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 an underage girl (under 12 years old) to consent to sexual activity. There was one exception: a man's acts with his wife (females over 12 years old), to which rape law did not apply.[7]

U.S. of America[edit]

Marriage law[edit]

English common law inherited from the British remained in force in America unless a specific state law was enacted to replace them. 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.[3]

In states without a legislated minimum, common law (which specifies a minimum of 12 years) prevails; the estimated effect of a common law is similar to a legislated minimum of 13 or less[8] (Massachusetts has a legislated minimum of 12 [9] ), the lowest in any of the 50 states). In California, a person under 18 years old can marry with parental consent but judicial approval is also required. California does not have a legislated minimum, so common law (which specifies a minimum of 12 years) prevails.

Rape law[edit]

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

In 1880, 37 states had an age of consent of 10 years, 10 states had an age of consent at 12 years, and Delaware had an age of consent of 7 years.[10][11][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 at 16, 21 states had an age of consent at 18, and one state (Georgia) had an age of consent at 14.[13]

Alaska was bought from the Russians and became the 49th state of U.S. in 1959. The age of consent was 16 years old. Hawaii became the 50th state of U.S. in 1959. The age of consent was 14 years old.

Two final states legislating their ages of consent into the 15–18 range were Georgia and Hawaii, from 14 to 16, raised in 1995 and 2001, respectively. One state (Colorado) had the age of consent at 15, having been lowered from 18 years old because age of majority was lowered from 21 years old to 18 years old in 1971.

In 2007, the age of consent was 16 years old in Massachusetts.[14]

As of August 1, 2018, the age of consent in each state in the United States was either 16 years of age, 17 years of age, or 18 years of age.[15]

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

Age of underage marriage by jurisdiction[edit]

In the 50 states[edit]

Every state except Delaware, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, West Virginia and New Jersey allows underage marriage in exceptional circumstances if one or more of the following circumstances apply:

  • consent of a court clerk or judge (sometimes the consent of a superior court judge, rather than a local judge, is required)
  • consent of the parents or legal guardians of the minor
  • if one of the parties is pregnant
  • if the minor has given birth to a child
  • if the minor is emancipated.

Minimum age in 50 states:[17]

From 2017[18][19] to 2019[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] 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,[1] 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.[2]

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.[28] In Guam, the general age is 18, but 16-year-olds can get married with the consent of at least one parent or guardian.[29] In American Samoa, since September 2018, the marriage age has been 18 for both sexes. Previously, the marriage age for females was 14.[30] 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.[28] In the U.S. Virgin Islands the marriage age is 14 for females and 16 for males.[31] In the Northern Mariana Islands males must be 18 to marry, while females can marry at 16 with parental consent.[32]

List[edit]

States[edit]

Name Minimum age Notes
Minimum statutory age after all exceptions General marriage age
 Alabama 16[33] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[33][34]
 Alaska 16[33] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[33][34]
 Arizona 16[33] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. A person can marry at sixteen, 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.[33][34]
 Arkansas 17[33] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at seventeen.[33][34]
 California 17[33] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent and judicial approval, a person can marry under the age of eighteen but the 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.[33] Age of consent for statutory rape law is 18 years old.[16]
 Colorado 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. 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 sixteen.[35]
 Connecticut[18] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Delaware 18[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Minors cannot get married.[35]
 Florida 17[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent and judicial, a person can marry at seventeen as long as one party isn't more than two years older than the minor.[35]
 Georgia 17[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Emancipated minors who are seventeen can marry after completing a premarital education course but not to someone more than four years older.[35]
 Hawaii[36] 15[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen. A person who is fifteen can marry with parental consent and judicial approval.[35]
 Idaho 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen or seventeen, but only if there is no more than a three-year age gap between the two parties.[35]
 Illinois[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Indiana 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. 16- or 17-year-olds can marry someone no more than four years older with approval from a juvenile court judge.[35]
 Iowa[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Kansas[36] 15[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen. With judicial approval, a person can marry at age fifteen.[35]
 Kentucky 17[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With judicial approval, a person can marry at seventeen.[35]
 Louisiana 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent and judicial approval, a minor who is sixteen or seventeen can marry a person less than three years older. No one under sixteen can marry.[35]
 Maine 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen. A person who is under sixteen cannot marry.[35]
 Maryland[36] 15[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent or proof of pregnancy/birth of a child, parties can marry at sixteen. A person can marry at fifteen with parental consent and there's proof the female is pregnant or has given birth to a child.[35]
 Massachusetts[36] 12 years old for females and 14 years old for males[35][34] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent and judicial approval, a person can marry under the age of eighteen[35] but no lower than the age of 12 for females and 14 for males as it is the legislated minimum in this state.[34] Age of consent for statutory rape law is 16 years old.[16]
 Michigan 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Minnesota 18[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Minors cannot get married.[35]
 Mississippi[36] 15 for females and 17 for males[35][34] 21 The age of consent is twenty-one. With parental consent, males can marry at seventeen and females can marry at fifteen.[35][34] Women 15–20 and men 17–20 can marry with parental consent alone.[37]
 Missouri 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen. A person over twenty-one cannot marry someone under the age of eighteen.[35]
 Montana[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent and after at least two separate counseling sessions, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Nebraska[36] 17[35] 19 The age of consent is nineteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at seventeen.[35]
 Nevada[38] 17 [38][39] 18 In Nevada since October 1, 2019, 17 became 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.[38][39]
 New Hampshire[40] 16 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent and the consent of the judge, a person can marry at sixteen.[33]
 New Jersey 18[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Minors cannot get married.[35]
 New Mexico[36] 16[17] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[17]
 New York 17[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental and judicial consent, a person can marry at seventeen.[35]
 North Carolina 16.[17] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[17]
 North Dakota[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Ohio[41] 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.[42]
 Oklahoma[36] 16[17] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[17]
 Oregon[36] 17[17] 18 Consenting parent or guardian must accompany the applicant when applying for the marriage license.
 Pennsylvania[43] 18[33] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Minors cannot legally marry.[33]
 Rhode Island 16[17] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[17]
 South Carolina[44] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 South Dakota[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Tennessee[24] 17[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at seventeen; however, one party cannot be more than four years older than the minor.[35]
 Texas[19] 16 [35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Emancipated minors who are sixteen or seventeen can legally marry.[35]
 Utah[45] 15[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen. A person can marry at age fifteen with parental consent and judicial approval or court commissioner.[35]
 Vermont[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[35]
 Virginia 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. Minors can marry at sixteen with court approval in special cases.[35]
 Washington[36] 17[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With judicial approval, a person can marry at seventeen.[35]
 West Virginia[36] 18[17] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, eighteen.[17]
 Wisconsin[36] 16[35] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at age sixteen.[35]
 Wyoming[36] 16[17] 18 The age of consent is eighteen. With parental consent, a person can marry at sixteen.[17]

District of Columbia and United States Territories[edit]

Name Minimum age Notes
Statutory age when all exceptions are taken into account General age
 American Samoa[46] 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.[46]
 District of Columbia[36] 16 18
 Guam[47] 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.[48]
 Puerto Rico[36] 16 (females) 18 (males) 21
 U.S. Virgin Islands[31] 14 (females) 16 (males) 18

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b "Emancipation and the Legal Rights of Minors in Massachusetts - MassLegalHelp". www.masslegalhelp.org. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d B. Dahl, Gordon. "Early Teen Marriage and Future Poverty". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  4. ^ Stephen Robertson, University of Sydney, Australia. "Children and Youth in History | Age of Consent Laws". Chnm.gmu.edu. Retrieved June 30, 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  6. ^ "Children and Youth in History | Age of Consent Laws". chnm.gmu.edu.
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  9. ^ "Marriage laws table_marriage". law.cornell.edu.
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  26. ^ "Missouri SB655 - 2018 - Regular Session".
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