Can A Married Minor File For Divorce?
The short answer is no. However, it is important to understand the history, case law, and legal definitions that are at the root of this answer.
In Maryland, the age of majority is eighteen years old. History shows that there is no magical mathematical equation that supports why this number is the age of majority. In the fifteenth century, the majority age of twenty-one was settled in England as the time one could serve in the Army or perform certain civic duties.¹ However, an ideological shift occurred in the 1960s and 1970s to lower the age of majority to eighteen. This move arose out of public debate over the voting age at a time when eighteen-year-olds were being drafted into service in the Vietnam War.² Shortly after, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was passed, which lowered the voting age to eighteen.
Md. Ann. Code Art. 1§24 (2013) states that “a person eighteen years of age or more is an adult for all purposes whatsoever and has the same legal capacity, rights, powers, privileges, duties, liabilities, and responsibilities as prior to July 1, 1973, persons had at twenty-one years of age, and the “age of majority” is hereby declared to be eighteen years.” The statute establishes that the terms “adult”, “of full age”, or “of legal age” refer to a person who has attained the age of eighteen years, and further confirms that the term “minor”, as it pertains to legal age and capacity, refers to one who has not yet reached the age of eighteen.
According to the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure, a minor is unable to file or defend a lawsuit. Rule 2-202, which addresses an individual’s capacity, requires an "individual under disability" to file or defend a suit through a guardian, other fiduciary, next friend, by a parent if in the parent's custody, or by another interested person. Rule 1-202 defines, in part, an "individual under disability" as an individual under the age of eighteen.
This may seem contradictory since an individual as young as fifteen is able to marry.³ However, marriage is not an emancipating event for the purposes of filing a lawsuit. Therefore, age, not marriage, is the triggering emancipation event. So while 15, 16, and 17 year-old minors may legally marry, if they want to file for divorce in Maryland without the assistance of a guardian or adult, then they will have to wait until they turn eighteen.
By: Amanda Smith
¹ Arrested Development: Rethinking Contract Age of Majority for the Twenty-First Century Adolescent, Wayne R. Barnes, 76 Md. L. Rev. 414, 415 (1943).
² Andrew A. Schwartz, Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Swipe: A Critique of the Infancy Rule in the Federal Credit CARD Act, 2011 UTAH L. Rev. 407,415
³ Maryland Code Family Law §2-301 (b).