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A law signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 20, 2017 makes it illegal for a child under the age of 17 to marry in New York State. This may not sound like anything new, but most don’t realize that until recently, a person as young as 14 could marry in New York.
The new law raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 18 years old, while providing guidance for judges who are asked to determine whether someone as young as 17-years-old can marry. Judges must ensure that the 17-year-old is entering into marriage of his or her own free will, and the marriage will not endanger the mental, emotional or physical safety of the child.
This is the first time the age of consent for marriage in New York has been raised since 1929. Under the previous law, children ages 14 and 15 could marry but only with consent from parents and a judge, and children ages 16 and 17 could marry with parental consent alone. According to Governor Cuomo’s office, more than 3,800 children ages 14-17 were married in the state between 2000 and 2010. And according to the state Department of Health, a majority of those involved minor girls marrying adult men. Situations like this are seen by many as a way for adult men to sexually abuse children and then avoid prosecution by marrying their young victims.
By implementing this law, New York State aims to end forced marriages, especially those involving the plight of young girls. According to data released by the Governor’s office, women who marry before the age of 18 face an increased risk of developing mental and physical health disorders, including a 23-percent higher risk for heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and strokes. Also, women who marry before the age of 18 are more likely to live in poverty as they age because many children forced into marriage end up dropping out of school and are getting pregnant at very young ages. Marrying at a young age forces many children into a life they did not choose and are three times more likely to suffer spousal abuse than women who marry at age 21 or older. Not surprisingly, studies show that more than 80 percent of marriages involving people under age 18 end in divorce.
Parents of teens should not only know about this new law in New York State, but also know that the same protections do not apply in other states. More than half of the states in the Union have not set a minimum age of consent for marriage, which means there is still a possibility that their children could cross state lines and be married as minors.
If your teen-age child decided to – or was forced to – get married before reaching the new legal age of consent in New York, you have the right to retain an attorney to assist in dissolving the marriage. The family and matrimonial attorneys at Tully Rinckey PLLC stand ready to assist in divorces and annulments, so that children may avoid the pitfalls of marrying too young.
Donald VanStry, Esq., is a Senior Counsel at Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Syracuse office. He focuses his practice on family and matrimonial law, including divorce, separation agreements, custody, adoptions, child support, spousal maintenance, violation/enforcement actions, estate planning and probate actions.