Governor Brown Signs Bill by Senator Jerry Hill to Help Prevent Minors from Being Forced into Marriage or a Domestic Partnership

September 21, 2018

For Immediate Release – Office of State Senator Jerry Hill – September 21, 2018
Media Contact: Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404, leslie.guevarra@sen.ca.gov

Governor Brown Signs Bill by Senator Jerry Hill to Help Prevent Minors from Being Forced into Marriage or a Domestic Partnership

SACRAMENTO – Governor Brown signed legislation today by Senator Jerry Hill to protect minors from being forced into marriage or a domestic partnership – especially those that may result from physical force or abuse, or could place a minor at risk for abuse.

Senate Bill 273 provides better safeguards against forced underage marriage,” said state Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. “I thank a young constituent from the Peninsula – who was a teenager in high school when she brought this issue to my attention in 2017 – for letting me know about her concerns and urging me to learn more about this serious problem.”

An advocate for girls and women’s rights, she pointed out that California law allows underage marriages, even of young children to adults.

“We tend to think that underage marriage of children and young teens occurs only in developing counties, but as witnesses who testified in support of SB 273 showed, it happens in our country,” Senator Hill said.

Exactly how often it happens is hard to say. In California, for example, there is no threshold age for marriage and the state stopped asking for age on marriage forms in 1986.

SB 273 expands current requirements for reviews by Family Court Services and by judges when individuals younger than 18 seek a court order granting them permission to marry or enter into a domestic partnership in California.

SB 273 also requires local registrars and the state to compile statistics on marriages and domestic partnerships involving minors. Under the new law, which takes effect January 1, the state would be required to document the data in a statistical report that includes a county-by-county look at the numbers. The state is to produce the first such document by March 1, 2020, and update it by March 1 each year afterward.

Under current law in most California counties, a minor only needs to get a court order and permission from one parent to marry. Senator Hill noted that the existing law does not provide a judge with much discretion or direction. Existing statute does not require judges to consider the circumstances of a request for a court order granting permission to marry. Some, but not all, counties require pre-marital counseling or interviews with the individuals seeking to marry.

SB 273 requires the following reforms as improvements to current law:

  • Family Court Services must separately interview each individual intending to marry and at least one of the parents of the minor in the prospective relationship.
  • Family Court Services shall then submit a report to the court with any findings of coercion or duress on the minor and recommendations for granting or denying the court order to marry.
  • If Family Court Services knows or reasonably suspects that the minor is a victim of child abuse or neglect that is to be reported to child protective services.
  • The judge shall then interview each of the parties intending to marry after reviewing the Family Court Services report.
  • The judge shall also consider whether there is evidence of coercion or undue influence on the minor when determining to issue the order granting permission to marry.
  • The court shall also provide the minor with information about the rights and responsibilities of being emancipated which will occur when they are married.
  • The parties would have to wait one month after receiving the order granting permission to marry before they are eligible to obtain a marriage license from the county.

Seventeen-year-olds who have achieved a high school diploma or a high school equivalency certificate would be exempt from the requirements.

Also, 16- and 17-year-olds who are pregnant, or whose prospective spouse or domestic partner is pregnant would be exempt from the 30-day waiting period.

Recent years have seen progress in the movement to increase protections against forced underage marriage in the United States by setting restrictions on the minimum age for marriage.

This year, Delaware and New Jersey banned marriage for anyone under 18. In 2017, Texas barred people younger than 18 from marrying with exemptions for court-emancipated minors – a status for which only 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible. In 2016, Virginia set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, also allowing exemptions for court-emancipated minors who are 16 or 17. Other states in recent years have raised their minimum age for marriage to 16 or 17.

An early iteration of Senator Hill’s SB 273 barred anyone younger than 18 from marrying, but the prohibition could not win enough legislative support in either house to enable the bill to succeed.

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