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Blog Post  Child Brides

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Note: In 2022 the law was amended to prohibit marriage for individuals under the age of eighteen, regardless of parental consent. People must now be eighteen or older to marry in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, under MGL c.207, s. 25, a person under eighteen cannot marry without parental consent. Massachusetts does not have a law specifying the minimum age at which a person can marry with a parent’s consent. The process requires court approval, so whether or not to authorize the marriage of a particular minor is within a judge’s discretion.

Yet if you search the web, several sites suggest either that the minimum age to marry here with parental consent is 14 for boys and 12 for girls, or that it is 16 for both. Where do these ages come from?

The notion of a minimum age of 14 for boys and 12 for girls comes from an 1854 case, Parton v. Hervey, 67 Mass. 119. In this case, a 13-year-old girl got married without her mother’s consent, and her mother was forbidding her from going to live with her new husband. The court ruled that while it is illegal for someone to perform a marriage of a minor, the marriage itself is only voidable, not void. So the minor could get out of the marriage if she wanted to, but that the marriage was not void as a matter of law, as long as the minor was above the “age of consent.” The case then went on to say that the age of consent in Massachusetts (in 1854) was fourteen for males and twelve for females, and thus the girl was still married and her mother couldn’t keep her from her beloved husband. This case was most recently cited in 1977 in Baird v. Attorney Gen., 371 Mass. 741, for its basic premise “A marriage ceremony involving a freely assenting minor, acting without parental consent, has been held valid, although, because of the minor’s age, the ceremony was performed in violation of law.” This case did not reiterate the ages of 12 and 14.

Presumably, the concept that the minimum age is sixteen for both males and females comes from that same notion, that a minor above the age of consent may have a valid marriage. Massachusetts does not have a general age of consent for all things (for example, consent to medical treatment or kidnapping are different). For sexual matters, though, sixteen is generally called the “age of consent,” because sex with a person under sixteen is prohibited by MGL c.265 s.23. And so some websites state that you can marry here with parental consent at sixteen, and without it at eighteen. But just the law does not list a minimum age of twelve, it doesn’t give a minimum age of sixteen either.

The truth is both simpler and more murky. In Massachusetts, if a parent consents to a minor child’s marriage, authorization must still be obtained from the Probate or District Court. The judge will use his or her discretion to determine if the marriage is in the child’s best interest. As far as we can determine, there is no minimum age; there also is no requirement that the judge approve any request. Each case is simply decided on its own merits.

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