Last year, New Jersey became the second state in the country to ban teenage marriage. Prior to the change, 16- and 17-year-olds could obtain marriage licenses with parental consent. Those under 16 needed both parental consent and approval from a judge. The new law establishes 18 years old as the minimum age for marriage.
Every state has its own legal requirements for a marriage to be valid, which includes setting a legal age for the parties. Most states allow marriage by minors so long as there is parental or judicial consent. However, there has been a push across the U.S. to raise the minimum age for marriage regardless of consent to combat sex trafficking and protect minors from being forced into unwanted marriages by their families. Some religious groups were opposed to the change and former Governor Christie declined to sign the law.
Those advocating for the change argued it was hard to tell the difference between consent and coercion. Studies have also shown that minors who marry under the age of 18 are less likely to graduate from high school, go to college and be economically independent. They are also more likely to have many children at a younger age and more likely to get divorced. All of these contribute to economic hardship and other psychological and societal problems. New Jersey authorities stated that more than 3,600 minors were married in the state between 1995 and 2015, although the rate is slowing.
Other states may follow New Jersey and Delaware as advocates continue to press the issue.
For more information on marriage requirements in New Jersey, visit the State Department of Health website.