If a minor can legally get married, why is it so difficult for them to get a divorce?
In the past two years, over twelve states have considered the question of allowing individuals of a certain age to get married in the United States. While some states agreed that under certain circumstances, minors could be married, many failed to ask, “what if a minor wants to get a divorce?”
TeenVogue explores this topic in their series called “Wedlocked” that looks into the history and practice of child marriage. The divorce lawyer and expert featured in the show, Nancy Berg, says the answer is no. A minor cannot file for divorce because they are not considered old enough, even though they were old enough to get married. This is because marriage is a contract, and only adults can enter and break contracts. If they need a change in their marriage contract, the child will need to seek a guardian or parent to help them with this process.
How serious it this? Well, between 2000 and 2015, almost 208,000 child marriages were sanctioned in 44 states. Berg noticed how minors are affected by forced marriages. She is currently working with the Third Justice Center to help advance legislation to end or slow down child marriage. She claims the law doesn’t allow minors to have a clear direction who marry and this makes divorce very complicated. “The law mimics the culture, so it doesn’t necessarily follow the same effect, meaning the statutes on in place will not always change the way society changes.”
The laws are outdated in particular disciplines and fields. The complicated part rests in the difference between the age girls can marry versus when they reach a legal age to be an adult. She wants to make these ages standard and legal everywhere. One reason that this is a concern is domestic violence is linked to child marriage. When a minor marries young, and there is abuse, hurdling the marriage and exiting may have created a chance to continue the abuse, but this means nothing to the courts. States are “no-fault divorce” states which say they do not see domestic violence as part of the problem with divorce. Trevicia Williams, a former child bride, tells Teen Vogue when she got married at 14, she wanted to get an annulment within the first 30 days of marriage. However, a minor cannot secure a divorce unless there is a guardian ad litem present to act on behalf of the juvenile and makes decisions in their best interests.
Divorce can be a complicated process for anyone, whether they are a minor who decided to get married or an adult who decides that they can no longer keep the contract they made with their spouse. Divorce proceedings can be highly charged with emotion and it is sometimes difficult for divorcing couples to reach an agreement on how their property will be divided, custody of children will be handled, and how the finances will be separated. An experienced divorce attorney in your area can help you decide the best course of action and can help you understand your rights. I researched divorce attorneys in Utah, and in North Texas (where I recently moved), and I found some great legal websites that discussed the ins-and-outs of divorce. I especially liked the website of this North Texas divorce lawyer, Karen Alexander. I recommend reading the information sites like hers and others if you are considering divorce.