Dear Readers,

This week’s Ask Carolyn concerns the marriage where one or more of the partners is a minor child and a twist on domestic violence.



Dear Carolyn,

I am concerned about an article I recently read concerning underage girls as young as 12 and 13 years old marrying older males in South Carolina. To me, this is sexual abuse. The article said that nearly 7,000 underage girls – some as young as 12 and 13 – have married in South Carolina in the past 20 years.

Is this possible? Does North Carolina allow this? If so, I want to write my legislator.


Carolyn Answers …

South Carolina sets no minimum age for marriage as long as the bride is pregnant. This has been the law in South Carolina since 1962, and the law was designed to reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. My research shows that in 2014, a 14-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man were granted a marriage license in South Carolina. In 1997, a 16-year-old girl married a 60-year-old male. I find this outrageous, as well. These marriages seem to meet the criteria for child rape. Lolita?

So what is the law in North Carolina? Minors over the age of 16 and under the age of 18 may marry, and the register of deeds may issue a license for the wedding, with written consent by a parent having full or joint legal custody of the minor or by a “person, agency, or institution having legal custody or serving as a guardian of the underage party.” This seems to mean that social services could consent to the wedding of a child in the care of social services. The written consent in North Carolina is not required if the minor child has been awarded a certificate of emancipation, which is rather hard to get.

Now for North Carolina for children over 14 years of age and under 16: if a minor unmarried female is more than 14 years of age, but less than 16 years of age and is pregnant or has given birth to a child, then the unmarried female and the father of the child can agree to marry. However, the register of deeds can only issue the marriage license upon receipt of a certified copy of an order from a district court judge authorizing the marriage. So it takes a lawsuit to get married if you are 14 years and a day or not quite 16.

About 57,800 minors in the United States between the ages of 15 and 17 were married in 2014. Child marriage is legal in almost every state, but 36 states require minors to have judicial consent. In 34 states, 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with their parents’ permission. Two states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, allow 12- and 13- year-old girls and 14-year-old boys to marry with parental and judicial permission. Pregnancy is frequently a factor for consideration in state laws for minor marriage.

Do any other readers think this is just simply another form of child abuse?



Dear Carolyn,

My age is 20. I am a girl living with my father. I have a stepfather who is in prison and he will be released in one year. I have a good relationship with both my father and my stepfather but they are overprotective. I want to move out and become independent.

A year ago, I broached the subject of moving out. My mother’s reaction and my stepfather’s reaction were insane. My mother cried and yelled that I would be unable to take care of myself. I am working and doing all the housework, except the cooking which I don’t like. She said I would not be able to pay for my rent. My mother says that her life will end if I leave her. My stepfather said if I moved out I wouldn’t get to see my mother in my life anymore. They were extremely angry.

I decided to let some time go by and told them I wanted to travel. They have calmed down and the year has passed. A few days ago my mother talked about what they were planning for our life after my stepfather’s release. I told her it would be good, but that I planned to move out after he was released. She became insane again. After that, I faced the fact that they just forgot about my words and thought I had changed my mind. I want to move out, but I do not know how to tell my stepfather when he tells me I am “doing in” my mother’s life. Mostly, I am afraid I would never be able to see my mother again. I love my mother, and she’s everything to me. I don’t want to lose another year of independence, and after that, I think things will be worse. He could use any possible weapons to force me to stay home (but not physical abuse). He is already sometimes checking on our phones with his friends and things like that.


Carolyn Answers …

The relationships you describe are hard to follow. Here is the way I understand your question after reading it several times. You live with your father. Your stepfather and your mother are still married, but the stepfather is in prison. The stepfather is the one with the weapons and checking on the phones. You told each of your mother and father who reside in separate households that you wanted to move out of your father’s house and establish independence.

First, I think you should get out and get out now. You don’t need to ask anyone whether you should get out or can get out. You are over 18 years old, and you can leave. You should leave. You have a job and you should get a roommate your own age if you need some assistance with living expenses. Try to get as much education as possible.

Your family is putting a very unfair guilt trip on you. It is abusive. It is manipulative. Saying that if you don’t do X, Y, and Z, you cannot see your mother anymore, is manipulative, for example. The tantrums are manipulative.

What concerns me is your mention of weapons to force you to stay home. I doubt your stepfather will be able to have a weapon legally as a felon. I think any threat with a weapon is a form of physical abuse. Personally, I consider it highly abusive to use a weapon for any purpose of force or threat. Call law enforcement immediately if anyone threatens to use a weapon against you.

If after your stepfather is out of prison he threatens you with a weapon, you should also get some kind of court protection. You could get a 50B against the stepfather if you were ever a member of the household of your stepfather. This provides domestic violence protection order and allows police officers to immediately arrest your stepfather if he comes near you for any violation of an order. Checking on your phones is creepy. That is almost stalking, and I do not get a warm and fuzzy feeling about your situation and your safety. Please act in your own best interest.


Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to Ask Carolyn at or PO Box 9023, Greensboro, NC 27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. Note that the answers in Ask Carolyn are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn. Ask Carolyn ia a regular column, but not necessarily weekly.