Parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of their children. Although these rights are fundamental, they are not absolute. The state also has an interest in the welfare of children and may limit parental authority. The Supreme Court has even held, where justified, that parents can be totally deprived of their children forever. If the state can completely eliminate all parental rights, it can certainly limit some parental rights when the competing rights of the child are implicated.
A 15 year old girl wished to marry a 48 year old man. Her mother consented to the marriage and the district court issued an order approving the license. After the marriage, her father objected and sought a writ of mandamus to compel the court to vacate its order and to annul the marriage. The father argued that Nev. Rev. Stat. § 122.025, which allowed a minor under the age of 16 to marry with the consent of one parent and district court authorization, was unconstitutional.
Did the trial court err in granting the marriage license?
The appellate court found that the right to marry was a fundamental right. The statute provided a safeguard against an erroneous marriage decision by the minor and the consenting parent, by giving the district court the discretion to withhold authorization if it found that there were no extraordinary circumstances and/or the proposed marriage was not in the minor's best interest. The father lost his right to exercise legal control over his daughter during her minority. He still had the other legal and social attributes of parenthood. The state had an interest in fostering appropriate marriages and tailoring its statutes in such a way as to take into account the individual variations in maturity, rather than just setting an arbitrary rule of age. The father had no standing to annul his daughter's marriage.