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Law School Case Brief

Nix v. Cantrell (In re J.M.N.) - No. W2007-00615-COA-R3-JV, 2008 Tenn. App. LEXIS 346 (Ct. App. June 13, 2008)

Rule:

In Tennessee, a marriage between and minor and an adult is voidable, not void. 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. If either party is under the age of consent at the time of the marriage, the marriage is inchoate and voidable. Thus, a ceremonial marriage where a party is under the age of consent is valid until set aside. Indeed, the marriage of underage parties may be ratified or disaffirmed by them upon attaining the age of consent if the marriage is not annulled before that time. If the marriage is ratified, it is not necessary that it be again solemnized; a continuance of the relation after attaining the age of consent is a ratification of the voidable marriage.

Facts:

This case involves a non-custodial parent's attempt to give consent for her 14-year-old daughter to get married. After the parties divorced, the father was designated the primary residential parent for the parties' daughter, and the mother had regular visitation. When the daughter was 14 years old, the father took her to the mother's home for visitation. Without telling the father, the mother took the daughter and her 18-year-old boyfriend to the juvenile court below to seek permission to get married. At the juvenile court, the mother signed an affidavit consenting to the marriage. Based on the mother's affidavit, the juvenile court judge signed an order granting the daughter and her boyfriend permission to marry. They immediately obtained a marriage license and got married. After learning of the marriage, the father filed a motion in the juvenile court asking it to set aside its order giving the daughter permission to marry. After a hearing, the juvenile court granted the motion to set aside the order. It also held that setting aside the prior order rendered the daughter's marriage void. The mother appealed. 

Issue:

Was the marriage voidable, and not void?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed, concluding that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in setting aside its order giving the daughter permission to marry. Additionally, the court held that the marriage is merely voidable, not void.

Until the marriage was annulled or otherwise rendered void by a court of competent jurisdiction before the daughter reached the age of consent, it remained valid and the daughter and her husband remained husband and wife. The juvenile court's order legally removed the age restriction and although setting aside the order vacated the waiver of the age restriction, that did not change the fact that the daughter obtained a marriage licence and got married.

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