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Children Marrying Adults

The concept of children marrying adults is a reality in Colorado. In a recent decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals, the Court determined that a young girl’s marriage to an older man was legally valid despite her age.

The statutory age of consent for marriage in Colorado is eighteen. Nevertheless, persons between sixteen and eighteen years of age may marry if they obtain parental consent, or, if that is not possible, judicial approval. A person under the age of sixteen may receive judicial approval to marry if that person “has the consent to his or her marriage of both parents, if capable of giving consent, or his or her guardian or, if the parents are not living together, the parent who has legal custody or decision-making responsibility concerning such matters or with whom the child is living.”

However, Colorado is also one of several states, along with the District of Columbia, that still recognize common law marriages. The jurisdictions that recognize common law marriage are Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Common law, not the Colorado statutes, governs the existence of a common law marriage.

Essentially, in a common law marriage, two persons create a valid marital relationship without the benefit of a legal marriage ceremony performed according to statutory requirements. Oddly enough, Colorado law requires that the common law of England (so far as that law is applicable and of a general nature) shall be considered as of full force until repealed by the legislature.

Under English common law, children below the age of seven were incapable of marrying. After that age they could marry, but the marriage was voidable until they became able to consummate it, which the law presumed to be at age fourteen for males and twelve for females.

In its recent decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that, in the absence of a statutory provision to the contrary, Colorado has adopted the common law age of consent for marriage as fourteen for a male and twelve for a female, which existed under English common law. Based on this conclusion, the Court of Appeals upheld the validity of a fifteen year old female’s marriage to a male adult.

The law in this area is still evolving, and may change in the future. Meanwhile, when your teenage child threatens to runaway and get married – be prepared for it to possibly happen!

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