Can a circuit court void a couple’s marriage because the court thinks that it was contrary to a juvenile’s best interest? That was the issue before the Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday in Porter v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Services. I don’t usually talk about my own cases on here – but this was mine -and in my five minutes before the Supreme Court, I tried to articulate my thoughts on the issue. Arguing a case before the Arkansas Supreme Court is intimidating to say the least. This was an especially difficult case for everyone involved, because there was almost no Arkansas case law upon which to base our arguments. On the flip side, that means they couldn’t reach back and ask me about some obscure case that contradicted my argument – because I had done my homework and there were no such cases.
In this case, a 16 year old’s parents gave permission for her to marry a 34 year old and leave the state. This didn’t settle well with the circuit judge who was hearing the girl’s truancy case weeks after the marriage. The judge ordered the girl to go into foster care and granted a motion to void the marriage.
This case raises all sorts of interesting questions. What does it mean for a minor to get married? Does it mean they don’t have to go to school? Does it mean their parents are no longer responsible for them whatsoever? Can a married juvenile be neglected by her parents?
In this case, although she had some problems and had missed a lot of school, the girl seemed to understand what marriage meant – her husband wasn’t a bad guy as far as anyone knew – and even if she loses, they will probably just remarry when she turns 18.
However, we lawyers like to invent wild hypotheticals. Such as, what if some wacky parents let their 14 year old marry a nasty old sex offender who just was released from prison. Can that marriage be voided? Should the best interest standard trump the child’s right to marry and the child’s parents right to consent to the child getting married to anyone they chose?
I suppose we will find out in a few weeks.