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How Old Do You Have to Be to Get Married in SC?

How old do you have to be to get married in SC? I've seen information online that says 18, 16, and even no age limit... which one is true?

The truth is that, if you are pregnant or have had a child, you can get married at any age in SC with parental consent. This is a problem for many people - although teenaged girls marrying older men may have been a common occurrence in centuries past, it is definitely frowned upon by most people in today's society.

The SC legislature is considering a bill that would make 18 the legal age of consent to marry without exception, but will it pass? A similar bill was vetoed in New Jersey in 2017...

How old do you have to be to get married in SC now under the current laws?

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get Married in SC?

You can get married at the age of 18 in SC - at age 18, you are legally an adult and are expected to be able to make important decisions like whether to get married...

But at 16 years old, you can get married if a parent, guardian, or other relative signs an affidavit stating that you have their consent to tie the knot.

But then, at 11 or 12 years old, SC law says you can get married if you are pregnant or if you have a child. With parental consent for females, and without any parental consent if you are a male child who is the father of the child...

You Can Get Married at 18 in SC

As a starting point, SC Code Section 20-1-10 says that any person can get married in the state of SC unless they are mentally incompetent or unless it is otherwise prohibited by SC law.

(A) All persons, except mentally incompetent persons and persons whose marriage is prohibited by this section, may lawfully contract matrimony.

The law prohibits marriage between close relatives:

(B) No man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, stepmother, sister, grandfather's wife, son's wife, grandson's wife, wife's mother, wife's grandmother, wife's daughter, wife's granddaughter, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister, mother's sister, or another man.

(C) No woman shall marry her father, grandfather, son, grandson, stepfather, brother, grandmother's husband, daughter's husband, granddaughter's husband, husband's father, husband's grandfather, husband's son, husband's grandson, brother's son, sister's son, father's brother, mother's brother, or another woman.

And it then attempts to prohibit same-sex marriages, although that code section has been declared unconstitutional by Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (U.S. 2015).

As a general rule, minors cannot enter into contracts - they are not deemed "competent" to enter into a contract until they have reached the age of 18, and any contract a minor agrees to can be declared void and unenforceable.

Similarly, minors are not competent to enter into a marriage contract before the age of 18... or are they?

You Can Get Married at 16 in SC with Parental Consent

SC Code Section 20-1-100, titled "minimum age for valid marriage," states that any marriage entered into by a child under the age of 16 is void:

Any person under the age of sixteen is not capable of entering into a valid marriage, and all marriages hereinafter entered into by such persons are void ab initio. A common-law marriage hereinafter entered into by a person under the age of sixteen is void ab initio.

So, anyone over the age of 16 can get married in SC, right? Not without parental consent...

SC Code Section 20-1-250 requires an affidavit from a parent, guardian, or other relative that the child lives with giving consent for the marriage:

A marriage license must not be issued when either applicant is under the age of sixteen. When either applicant is between the ages of sixteen to eighteen and that applicant resides with father, mother, other relative, or guardian, the probate judge or other officer authorized to issue marriage licenses shall not issue a license for the marriage until furnished with a sworn affidavit signed by the father, mother, other relative, or guardian giving consent to the marriage.

So, any person can get married after the age of 18 if they are mentally competent (and not trying to marry a relative), and any child over the age of 16 can get married if a parent, guardian, or other relative consents to the marriage.

So, you must be at least 16 years old to get married in SC, right? Not so fast...

You Can Get Married at Any Age in SC if You are Pregnant

SC Code Section 20-1-300 goes on to say that a female who is pregnant or who has had a child can get married at any age if her parent or guardian consents to the marriage. Yes. Any age.

Everyone is concerned about the age of females getting married, but - the same statute allows a male child of any age to get married if he is the father of a minor female's child, and no parental consent is required:

Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 20-1-250 to 20-1-290, a marriage license may be issued to an unmarried female and male under the age of eighteen years who could otherwise enter into a marital contract, if such female be pregnant or has borne a child, under the following conditions:

(a) the fact of pregnancy or birth is established by the report or certificate of at least one duly licensed physician;

(b) she and the putative father agree to marry;

(c) written consent to the marriage is given by one of the parents of the female, or by a person standing in loco parentis, such as her guardian or the person with whom she resides, or, in the event of no such qualified person, with the consent of the superintendent of the department of social services of the county in which either party resides;

(d) without regard to the age of the female and male; and

(e) without any requirement for any further consent to the marriage of the male.

Are Probate Courts Issuing Marriage Licenses to Children in SC?

Yes.

Although some judges will not issue marriage licenses to children under the age of 16, the law clearly requires them to, and many judges are following the law. Thousands of teenaged girls, as young as 12 years old, are married in SC - many of them to much older men.

Nearly 7,000 underage girls - some as young as 12 and 13 - have wed older males in South Carolina over the past 20 years, endangered by decades-old legal loopholes that can expose children to sexual abuse.

In some cases, these grooms are much older. Since 1997, dozens of South Carolina men in their 40s, 50s and 60s have married teenage girls who were not yet 18.

I can't help but notice, yet again, that the focus is exclusively on underaged females - remember, SC law allows male children to marry as well and does not even require parental consent...

Why is Child Marriage a Problem?

Throughout history, child marriage has not only been acceptable, but it was the norm in many cultures. Even in America, it has only become an issue in recent decades. Why?

  • As a society, we are paying more attention to the welfare and rights of children than at any other time in history;
  • Many child marriages are not simply with the consent of the parent - they are marriages that are forced on the child by the parent for moral, religious, or other reasons;
  • It is a crime to have sex with a child under the age of 16 in SC (whether that age should be increased is also a valid subject of debate) - and the law should not sanction child sexual abuse by allowing the abuser to marry the child; and
  • There is an increased awareness and understanding that children under the age of 18 (or even older) have not sufficiently matured or gained enough life experience to fully understand the consequences of a decision to marry.

Should we allow children under the age of 18 to marry in SC? It seems like a no-brainer, but let's see what the legislature does...

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