In re J.M.N.
2008 WL 2415490 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008)

Facts:

  • On July 27, 2006, when Jacy was 14-years-old, Father took Jacy for her regular visitation with Mother. Father was led to believe that Jacy would be going with Mother to vacation in Florida for the week. Instead, without notifying Father, Mother took Jacy across the Tennessee/Mississippi state line to the Juvenile Court in Selmer, McNairy County, Tennessee, to enable Jacy to marry her 18-year-old boyfriend, Henry.
  • Note:
    • Mother took them to Tennessee to be married to avoid the waiting period associated with the blood test that was required in Mississippi.
    • In Tennessee, the legal age for marriage without parental consent 18.
    • Father was the primary custodian, and Mother had a history of mental illness. Divorced since 1995.
  • After learning of the marriage, Father filed a motion in the juvenile court asking it to set aside its order giving the daughter permission to marry.
  • He initially asserted fraud on the court by Mother, but modified that position in that the order could be set aside based on “good cause.”

History:

  • After a hearing, the juvenile court granted the motion to set aside.
    • Judge McMahan: “I think it’s significant in this case that we’re dealing with, at the time a 14–year–old… And for one parent to go and make it without notifying the other parent, that’s just not right. You shouldn’t do that…Now, I believe the Court has basis to set this aside regardless of whether there’s any fraud or not.”
      • He also noted the best interests of the child as one of the grounds for his decision.
  • Judge McMahan stated that this ruling had the effect of rendering the marriage void.
  • Mother appealed.

Issue:
Whether the juvenile court abused its discretion in setting aside its order giving the daughter permission to marry.

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • “The evidence adduced at the hearing before Judge McMahan is ample justification for granting relief from the order.”
    • Father was Jacy’s primary residential parent;
    • Mother did not have decision-making authority regarding Jacy;
    • Father was not notified of Mother’s actions;
    • Mother had a history of mental illness and of attempts to usurp Father’s authority in decision-making matters involving Jacy; and
    • The evidence of these facts was not before Judge Gray when he signed the July 27, 2006 order.
  • The court also clarified that the marriage wasn’t void, but voidable.
    • “A voidable marriage differs from a void marriage in that the former is treated as valid and binding until its nullity is ascertained and declared by a competent court.”
    • On the other hand, void is illegal from the outset and cannot ever be made legal.
  • Prof: Although statutes vary by state, no state would allow what happened here – i.e., the non-custodial parent  giving consent for underage child to marry without consent of the custodial parent.
  • Side Notes:
    • At common law, age to consent was 7, but it was voidable until they reached the age of maturity.
    • Only two states currently do not set 18 as the minimum age.