Every state in the U.S. has a minimum age at which someone can marry without first getting parental and/or judicial approval. All states except two share the same marital age of consent: 18 years old. Nebraska has a minimum consent age of 19. The age in Mississippi is 21.
That’s where the consistency ends. The minimum age at which someone can marry with permission varies significantly from state to state from as young as 12 (females in Massachusetts) to 17 (males in Arkansas and Mississippi). Six states ban underage marriage.
California, on the other hand, is among the few states with no minimum underage marriage age. Hypothetically, a child of any age could marry if authorized by a parent and the court.
Underage marriage without permission is grounds for an annulment in California. Anyone younger than 18 when they married without permission can ask for an annulment within four years after their 18th birthday.
California Is Among States with the Most Child Marriages
Just like the laws, the number of child marriages differs from state to state. According to the Pew Research Center, California has the sixth-highest rate of underage marriages.
In Pew’s analysis of American Community Survey data in 2016, 5.5 out of 1,000 Californians younger than 18 are married. West Virginia had the highest rate at 7.1. Alaska had the fewest at 1.8. The national average was determined to be 4.6.
Latest Legislative Attempt Failed
In 2021, AB 1286 was introduced in the California Legislature by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris. The bill did not add a minimum minor age but aimed to improve transparency. The legislation would require counties to report minor marriages four times per year instead of annually. The state registrar would also be tasked with reporting the data online and to the legislature. A minor marriage is one where at least one of the parties was younger than 18.
Void vs. Voidable Marriages
California law provides for two types of marriages to be annulled: void and voidable marriages.
Void marriages are never legal to begin with in California:
- Marriages of incest between close blood relatives (parent-child, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews)
- Bigamous marriages where one spouse is already married to someone else.
A judge can annul a void marriage.
Voidable marriages are ones where the judge decides whether the union is legal:
- Underage marriages
- Unsound mind
- One party is unable to consummate the marriage
- One party is still married to someone that they thought was dead
- Forced marriage
A marriage that is short in duration does not qualify for an annulment without one of the above factors also being true.
Most annulment petitions must be filed within four years of the marriage or discovery of the grounds.
A California divorce requires one of the spouses live in the state for at least six months before filing. Annulment petitions have no such residency requirement. There is also no six-month waiting period to be declared single as in a divorce. Both parties are single once the court completes the final annulment papers.
Legal separation and divorce are options for those not qualifying for or denied an annulment.
Extensive Courtroom Experience and Knowledge
At Gille Kaye Law Group, PC, we are a law firm rated “excellent” on AVVO. Attorney Christine Gille is a Certified Family Law Specialist, a testament to expertise, experience, and skill. Attorney Lloyd Kaye has a strong background in unraveling complex property issues.
If you have questions about annulment, divorce, or legal separation in the Pasadena area, request a confidential consultation. Reach us online or call (626) 340-0955.