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Tight restrictions now in place on teen marriages

By Walter Geiger New laws passed by the state legislature earlier in the year went into effect July 1 and one which has received little or no attention adds tight restrictions on young people who desire to marry. The intent of the law is to crack down on child trafficking. The age of consent for marriage has been raised from 16 to 17 so those under 17 cannot be issued a Georgia marriage license under any circumstances. Those who are 17 can marry but must first be ‘˜emancipated’ via the court system. The law refers to them as ‘˜children’. A 17-year-old is also prohibited from marrying anyone over the age of 21. Children wishing to marry must file a petition for emancipation in the juvenile court of the county in which they reside. The petition must have complete identification information including a certified copy of birth certificate. Also required are names and all contact information for parents, guardians or legal custodians. The petitioner must also provide the name of his or her nearest living relative who resides in Georgia. Also required are a current address, a statement of duration of residency at that address and a demonstration of the ability to handle personal, social and financial affairs. There must be testimony by or affidavits from individuals who have personal knowledge of the petitioner’s circumstances that emancipation is in the petitioner’s best interests. Those individuals may include licensed physicians, RNs, LPNs and licensed psychologists. Others may be licensed counselors, social workers, marriage or family therapists and school guidance counselors, social workers or psychologists. Also on the list are school administrators, principals, teachers and members of the clergy. Those seeking emancipation must also receive at least six hours of pre-marital counseling from advisors like those recommended for testimonials. The new law requires the Department of Public Health to create a fact sheet for all petitioners to educate them on sexual abuse, spousal abuse, human trafficking and a host of other issues. The petition must also include all identification information for the potential spouse and statements as to why they plan to marry, how long they have known each other and how they met. Criminal records of both parties must be inspected, particularly any records indicating violence, stalking and the like. The age difference between the two parties to be married cannot exceed four years. Once all this is completed, the court must appoint an attorney for the petitioner for emancipation and a guardian ad litem to investigate information in the petition. The court must also appoint an attorney for any indigent parent opposing the emancipation of a child. Among the things to be determined is whether the intended spouse is in a position of authority over the petitioner or the perpetrator of statutory rape. Parents and petitioners have the right to appeal any decision made on a request for emancipation. Those under 17 cannot get married out of state and avoid the restrictions put in place by the new legislation. For those 18 and over, the restrictions are much less stringent. Those seeking a marriage license must be of sound mind, have no living spouse from a previous marriage that has not been dissolved by divorce or annulment and are restricted from marrying those to who they are related by blood or marriage to degrees set by law. If they undergo the six hours of premarital counseling, there is no charge for their marriage license.

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