Does a Husband Become Your Guardian if You Are Underage?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Your state’s laws on marriage, age of majority, and emancipation will likely determine your legal status if you marry while you are a minor. Commonly, certain acts, such as joining the military or marrying, emancipate a minor, which means the minor does not need a guardian. Since state laws differ greatly in this area, you should research your state’s laws or consult with an attorney if you are dealing with this issue.

Emancipation Generally

Emancipation is the process whereby a minor is freed from some type of parental control and the parent is relieved of some legal responsibility for the minor. In many jurisdictions, marriage results in emancipation because it transforms the normal parent-child relationship by bringing in a third party, the spouse. Your state’s laws will determine exactly what legal rights are given to an emancipated minor. For example, Maryland law allows a minor to be partially emancipated upon marriage, but the emancipation does not give the minor the right to vote or sign a contract. In contrast, Florida law allows a married minor to have all the legal rights of an adult.

Automatic Emancipation Upon Marriage

Some states automatically emancipate minors, at least for some purposes, when the minor is validly married. For example, Florida considers a minor who is married or has been married automatically emancipated, even if that marriage was later dissolved or the minor’s spouse died. In Maine, marriage is the only situation in which minors are automatically emancipated; however, emancipation does not mean the minor is treated as an adult for all purposes. For example, if the minor is involved in a case normally handled by a juvenile court, it will still be handled by the juvenile court.

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Court-Ordered Emancipation

States that do not automatically emancipate minors upon marriage may still allow emancipation of a married minor by court-ordered emancipation. States such as Virginia allow their courts to order emancipation of a minor if the minor has a valid marriage. This process is not automatic, however, and does require petitioning the court for the emancipation declaration.

Parental Consent

In some states, a minor’s emancipation depends on whether the parents consented to the marriage. For example, in New York, where the age of majority is 21, marriages without parental consent are likely to result in court emancipation of the minor; marriages with parental consent do not. Even in states where a minor is automatically emancipated upon marriage, the marriage itself must be valid according to the state's laws, which often require parental consent. An invalid marriage cannot be the basis for automatic emancipation.

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