Underage Marriages Get New Restrictions in California

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday putting new restrictions on marriages involving minors.

California already allows minors to marry with the permission of a judge and parent. Starting Jan. 1, partners and the parents of minors will have to meet separately with court officials who can assess whether there is abuse or coercion.

Minors also will have to wait at least 30 days before getting married, unless they're 17 and a high school graduate or one of the partners is pregnant.

The measure by Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo imposes no minimum age for marriage. It originally would have banned all underage marriages but was scaled back amid opposition from advocacy groups that said marriage is a fundamental right and there are legitimate reasons for minors to marry.

The Children's Law Center of California told lawmakers that its clients have chosen to marry so their children would be born and raised by married parents, or as a way to get out of the foster care system, according to a legislative analysis.

It's unclear how many marriages involve an underage partner each year in California. Los Angeles County, California's largest, received about 44 petitions for an underage marriage in the past five years, according to legislative records. Alameda County reported five to 10 per year, while smaller counties reported one or two at most in a given year.

Hill said he introduced the bill when the issue was brought to his attention by a Bay Area teenager who has advocated for girls' rights. Critics of underage marriage say teens, especially girls, can be forced or coerced into marriage with lifelong consequences.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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