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Colorado bill aims to bar marriage under 16, require judicial consent for older teens

Posted: 3:39 PM, Apr 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-25 17:39:58-04

DENVER – A bill to modernize marriage in Colorado by barring minors under 16 from entering unions and requiring a judge to approve all other underage marriages is halfway through the General Assembly.

HB19-1316 , won’t impact people under 16 who are already married other than to provide protection to allow independence from their parents.

The bill states that any married underage person does have the right to live somewhere other than their parent’s home, the ability to file motions and petitions with a court in their name, the right to enter into contracts like a lease agreement, and can make their own decisions about medical care.

However, no further marriages will be allowed in Colorado for minors under 16 years old.

As for minors who are 16 or 17-years-old, there will be a new process to obtain a marriage license, along with a burden of proof that they can handle the responsibility.

Under this proposal, parents, a guardian, or the parent who has legal custody cannot simply give their consent to a teen’s marriage. A juvenile court judge will be involved in the decision-making process before the marriage license is issued.

The new law sets out a process where a judge must appoint a guardian ad litem (a person chosen to protect the interests of the minor) for the purpose of reviewing if the minor is responsible enough to assume the responsibilities of marriage and the marriage is in the minor’s best interest.

The guardian ad litem will collect information for a judge to consider the following factors:

  • The wishes of the underage party
  • The view of the parents or legal guardians of the underage party, if known
  • The ability of the underage party to assumed the responsibilities of marriage
  • The circumstances surrounding the marriage
  • The ability of the underage party to manage the underage party’s financial, personal, social, educational, and nonfinancial affairs independent of the underage party’s intended spouse both during the marriage or upon dissolution of the marriage

It is worth noting the law states, “Pregnancy alone does not establish that the best interests of the party would be served.”

So far, one amendment to the bill has failed so far. The proposal brought forward in the house sought to remove the necessity of a guardian ad litem if a minor over 16 consents to marriage, has the consent of both parents, guardian, or parent with legal custody and if the intended spouse is no more than two years older than the minor.

There’s also a section about proxy marriage, which is when one or both parties to the marriage cannot be present due to circumstances beyond their control. For example, imprisonment, travel restrictions, or if they live in a state where the marriage is not allowed. The new provisions tighten up the law by only allowing proxy marriages for adults.

An independent review by the Legislative Council Staff notes an average of 80 marriages per year involving 16 or 17-year-olds in Colorado from 2012 to 2018. As for minors under the age of 16, there are on average less than 5 marriages per year.

In order to facilitate having a guardian ad litem available for such uses, the bill includes an appropriation of less than $60,000 per year to the Office of the Child’s Representative.

As of April 25th, the bill has House approval and is now ready to be considered by a Senate committee before potentially going before the full chamber.

Bill sponsors:  Representative Chris Hansen (D-Denver) , Representative Lois Landgraf (R-El Paso) , Senator Faith Winter (D-Adams) and Senator John Cooke (R-Weld)