A person must generally reach two legal ages in order to get married: the age of consent to engage in sexual relations and the age of majority to enter into a contract. Many states set the age of consent needed to engage in sexual relations at 16 years old, while the age of majority to enter into a contract is generally 18 years old.

The fact that a parent or legal guardian is willing to co-sign the marriage contract, essentially lending their age to the minor that wants to get married for the purpose of the contract, makes the contract legally enforceable. Therefore, most states allow teenagers to get married with parental consent at the age of 16.

How Is Parental Consent Achieved?

Parental consent will be achieved with a notarized copy of a consent form, by parental physical presence during the submission of the marriage application, parental signing of the form at the county clerk’s office or, in some states, just a written letter from the parents.

If you want to get married without parental consent, you need to be at least 18 years old in 48 of the 50 states in the United States. The two remaining states are Nebraska, where the marriage age is 19, and Mississippi, where the marriage age is 21.

Can a Judge Allow Minors to Marry?

Depending on the state, partners are prohibited from marrying under the age of 16 (15-17), even with parental consent. However, many states permit a judge to allow marriage in extreme circumstances, such as if a pregnancy or birth has occurred. In the case of extreme circumstances, however, parental consent is still required in addition to the judge’s permission. The law gives parents and legal guardians the ultimate discretion to do what they feel is best for their children.

In states where the age of consent for sexual relations is 18, marriage under 18 can still be allowed with parental consent. States usually do not charge husbands for "statutory rape" of their underage wives because prosecutors tend to shy away from charging someone who does not want to leave the girl unwed and pregnant.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Married as a Minor?

Any contract situation that involves minors can be a difficult one, especially since many laws concerning a minor’s ability to enter into a contract are designed to prevent minors from either entering into contracts or from being bound by contracts. The complications around minors entering into contract become even more confusing when one adds all of the complex laws surrounding marriage. If you are a minor wanting to get married or the parent of a minor that wishes to get married, you may want to consult a family lawyer before the marriage takes place to ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the marriage is legal.