State laws provide certain age restrictions on marriage when at least one of the two individuals is below the age of majority (18 in most states). Only three states, not including Virginia, have no statutory minimum age for marriage licenses. In Virginia, parental consent is required for anyone between the ages of 16 and 18, but no consent is required for emancipated minors. Those under 16 may acquire a marriage license in the case of a pregnancy or childbirth with parental consent and proof from a physician.
The basics of Virginia's marriage age requirement laws are listed in the table below. See State-by-State Marriage "Age of Consent" Laws for a comparison.
|Code Section||20-48, 49|
|Minimum Legal Age With Parental Consent||Male: 16; Female: 16|
|Minimum Legal Age Without Parental Consent||Male: 18; Female: 18|
|Comments||Parental consent not required if minor was emancipated. Minors under 16 may obtain license in case of pregnancy or birth of child with parental consent and proof of pregnancy from a doctor.|
Marriage as a Fundamental Right
Marriage has been considered a fundamental right in the United States since the late 19th century. This means that state and federal governments can only infringe on that fundamental right in extreme circumstances. One of the most famous Supreme Court cases that affirmed the fundamental right to marriage is Loving v. Virginia. In that case, the Supreme Court invalidated a Virginia law that prohibited interracial marriage. Although this case was based on a Virginia law, it is applicable across the entire country. Because marriage is a fundamental right, age restrictions on marriage must support a very strong government interest in order to be valid. Currently, restricting marriage to adults (with exceptions) is constitutionally permissible in all states.
Age of Majority
Reaching the age of majority grants many rights, and bestows many responsibilities on a new adult. In Virginia, when a person turns eighteen years of age, they gain the right to marry without parental consent. As well, there are a few circumstances in which a person can gain adult status before they turn eighteen. One common situation is emancipation. This is when a court grants a minor adult status. As well, any minor who joins the military is automatically emancipated, and gains the right to marry. However, emancipated minors do not automatically gain other rights that are based purely on age, like purchasing alcohol and voting.
Underage Marriage in Virginia
Virginia marriage law allows minors to marry with parental permission. If either future spouse is age sixteen or seventeen, they may marry with a parent's permission. Children fifteen and younger may not marry, even with parental consent. However, a pregnant minor or parent under the age of sixteen may obtain a marriage license with parental consent and proof of pregnancy from a doctor.
If you would like to know more about Virginia's marriage age laws, there are many attorneys throughout the state with family law experience who may be able to help. A divorce attorney will be able to help you navigate your options if you are considering invalidating an underage marriage.
Contact a qualified attorney.