Child marriages are becoming a legal loophole in the struggle for custody

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Boyce, Idaho (AP) – Ryan Small tried to keep his ex-wife from leaving the state with their son early last winter when he learned that a 16-year-old boy was secretly married to another teenager with his mother’s permission, apparently to stop the battle for custody.

A few months earlier, Erin Carver had been embroiled in a battle with her ex-husband over whether their 16-year-old girl would stay in Idaho or move to Florida with her father when she learned a similar “sham marriage” had taken place.

Both children have slipped through a common legal loophole in child marriage laws in the United States: often only one parent is required to consent to a 16- or 17-year-old child marry, and as soon as the child marries, are concluded guardianship agreements. controversial.

It is difficult to determine how many minors have married parents seeking to annul custody agreements, in part because family lawsuits are often closed. But Unchained at lastan organization that seeks to end forced and child marriages, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 minors married in the United States between 2000 and 2018.

Child care loopholes are just one of the many problems that exist in child marriages, said Freddie Reyes, founder of Unchained At Last. Marriage under the age of 18 remains legal in 44 states.

“Parents use child marriages for a variety of reasons, in every way they can financially benefit,” Reiss said. “The list of horrors can go on and on.”

Children are sold into marriages with foreign wives to try to circumvent immigration laws, rape victims marry abusers in an attempt to cover up attacks, and for other illegal reasons, Reyes said.

“There are a lot of problems with the current legislation, but they all come down to the fact that this is a really important decision made by parents without the participation of a minor, and a minor has no legal rights until they turn 18,” Reiss said.

Carver was in her car when she received word that her 16-year-old daughter had married an 18-year-old boy in a courthouse in southwest Idaho with her father’s permission and no other witnesses. She drove to the curb and cried.

“No child under the age of 18 should be married, even with parental consent, because parental consent is often coercion by parents,” Carver said. “They’re just little kids.”

Last week, attorney Carver asked the Idaho Supreme Court to recognize that her ex-husband is not allowed to consent to the marriage. The court is expected to rule on Carver’s case in the next two weeks.

Carver, who learned of the marriage plans a few days before the wedding, filed an emergency petition asking the guardianship judge not to allow the consent of her ex.

But the petition was apparently lost on the judge’s desk, and he did not rule until it was too late. After the wedding, the judge said he would rule that the marriage had caused “irreparable harm” to the child. But since the marriage took place, the judge ruled that he lacked jurisdiction.

In arguments from the Idaho Supreme Court, a lawyer representing Carver’s ex-husband William Hornish was outraged by the opinion that the teenage girl’s marriage was “fake” designed to circumvent custody rules.

However, attorney Jeffrey Goss admitted there was no evidence that the marriage was based on a relationship. He stressed that Garnish has the legal authority to consent to marriage.

Goss did not respond to a phone call from the Associated Press.

Carver’s lawyer, Sean Brin, said he suspected Hornish had found his daughter’s young husband through social media. The teenagers studied in one high school, though in different classes. Neither Brin nor Carver were able to talk to their daughter, although Carver’s daughter was talking to her siblings.

“Her siblings are close to her, and so she says, you know,‘ I love Mom, I want to be in Florida, ’” Carver said.

Before the wedding, they had a typical mother-daughter relationship, Carver said. Her daughter was an active teenager who loved hanging out with friends, playing volleyball and ordering UberEats, although they disagreed on whether or not she should move to Florida before graduating from school.

Now Carver is worried about the effect of the marriage.

“Not just what he can do for taxes, health insurance or scholarships – such things, these are big consequences,” Carver said.

Ryan Small knew problems were on the horizon when he started getting letters from his 16-year-old son’s school with a warning about absenteeism. When the teenager came on a scheduled visit, he said his mother – Small’s ex-wife – had transferred him to an online school. But when Small turned to the school administration, they were relieved to finally hear from the parents, he said. School officials said the teen did not attend an online school and both parents had to sign documents to make the transition.

The teen then revealed that his mother planned to move them both to Spokane, Washington, where she found work, Small said. Fearing that his son would fall out, Maly tried to stop moving through the court.

Maly last saw his son for a scheduled visit on November 15, 2021. Four days later, the 16-year-old married a 17-year-old girl after receiving a marriage certificate at the Northern Idaho State Courthouse. Maly’s ex-wife served.

The child asked the guardianship judge to declare the marriage fake, annul it or bring his wife to court. The judge declined, citing an Idaho Court of Appeals decision in 2016 in another case where one parent secretly arranged a child marriage.

For a little over three months now, Small’s son has been in emancipation – a term for a minor who is married and now in limited legal situations manages as an adult.

“I know it’s stressful for my son and I don’t want to stress him out,” Small said. “But children can’t give consent and make a lifelong decision for their child? It’s just awful. “

The AP was unable to find Small’s ex-wife’s contact information, and her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The boy said he was looking for his son, but his text messages went unanswered.

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