Current law requires 16- and 17-year-olds in New Jersey to get their parents’ permission to wed. Children under 16 need a judge’s approval.
Now a measure introduced in the legislature would prohibit marriage for anyone younger than 18.
About 3,500 New Jersey residents under 18 got married between 1995 and 2012, said Fraidy Reese, who directs Unchained at Last, a group helping women escape from forced marriages.
Marriage at such a young age, she said, undermines girls’ health, education, and economic opportunities.
“Women who marry early develop more mental and physical health problems. Adolescents who marry are less likely to finish high school and much less likely to finish college,” she said. “Adolescents who marry are more likely to earn low wages, more likely to live in poverty.”
And marriage before the age of 18 has a 70 to 80 percent chance of ending in divorce, Reese said.
There are circumstances where people under 18 might want the right to marry, for instance a young soldier about to begin military duty, said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris.
“You want to be in that position of being the spouse so that if something untoward happens, you at least have that relationship certainly the benefits of it,” he said.
And young couples might also want to marry when there’s an unexpected pregnancy, said Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman John McKeon, D-Essex.
“The man and the woman or the boy and the girl in this instance that are 17 decide that they want to put together a traditional family unit,” he said. “I don’t think the legislature should stand in the way of that if that’s the decision that they make along with the support of their parents, which under the current law would require their signature to do so.”
The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the bill but has not taken any action on it.