TN 1 (11-04)
PR 05205.007 Colorado
A. PR 04-320 Void (Underage) Marriage in the State of Colorado
DATE: August 31, 2004
Under Colorado law, an underage marriage is not considered void from the outset. Action to declare the marriage invalid must be commenced within 24 months of the date of the marriage. In situations involving either mental incapacity or duress, Colorado law requires that a declaration of invalidity of marriage must be sought by either party or by the legal representative of the party who lacked capacity, no later than 6 moths after the petitioner obtained knowledge of the condition. In this case, because neither the child claimant nor her representative ever sought a declaration of invalidity of the marriage, the child was validly married.
You have requested an opinion on the validity of a marriage in the State of Colorado. Specifically, you have asked: 1) if an underage person marries in the State of Colorado by obtaining a forged parental/guardian consent, does state law consider the marriage to be void from the onset, or does a party to the marriage need to take action to void the marriage; and 2) if the marriage is subsequently voided, would it be valid for the time period before voided, thus eliminating benefits entitlement for Crystal G. C~ ("Crystal").
Under Colorado law, an underage marriage is not considered void from the onset. The underage party, or the parent or guardian, would have to obtain a court decree declaring the marriage invalid within 24 months of the date the marriage was entered into. Neither Crystal nor her legal guardian obtained such a decree within the statutory time frame. Therefore, the marriage is still valid.
If Crystal or her legal guardian had timely filed a decree invalidating the marriage, it would have been annulled, and, therefore, declared invalid as of the date of the marriage.
Summary of the Facts
The questions presented in this opinion request revolve around Crystal, born March 3, 1979.
Elois and Leroy B~, the number holder, SSN ~, became Crystal's legal guardians on January 9, 1980. Crystal was found disabled due to mental retardation and a mood disorder, and became entitled to SSI as of December 1, 1989.
Based on information provided by Mr. and Ms. B~, Crystal was determined eligible in May 1996 for Social Security benefits as the equitably adopted child of Mr. B~. Elois B~ became Crystal's representative payee.
However, on April 12, 1995, approximately one year before this determination, Crystal had married Sean E. B~ ("B~"). At the time of the marriage, Crystal was 16 years old and B~ was 27.
According to the July 12, 2004 Report of Contact form you provided, Ms. B~ said she became aware of the marriage about four to six weeks after the actual marriage took place, when she received the marriage certificate in the mail.
Ms. B~ also said that she immediately contacted the El Paso County Court house, stated Crystal was underage, and that the marriage certificate contained incorrect information, including forged parental consent. Ms. B~ said that she was told that the marriage was void due to these problems, and that no further action was necessary, as the marriage was not legitimate.
Ms. B~ also stated that she contacted legal aid a few months later and was told that no action was necessary to void the marriage, because it was not "legit."
On June 19, 2002, Crystal signed a statement, indicating that she and B~ had "convinced a friend" to pose as her mother and forge parental signatures on an affidavit granting Crystal permission to marry B~. On this statement, Crystal also indicated that she had been told by "various officials," including the Colorado Springs police department and Social Security personnel, that the marriage was not valid, and that she "should not worry about it."
On April 15, 2003, Vanessa J~, a friend of Crystal's, signed a statement, indicating that B~ "forced" Crystal into the marriage.
Law and Analysis
Under Colorado law, CRS § 14-2-106(1)(a)(I), a license to marry in the State of Colorado for an individual over the age of sixteen, but who has not yet attained the age of eighteen, requires consent of both parents or guardians or, if the parents are not living together, the parent who has legal custody or decision-making responsibility or with whom the child is living, or judicial approval.
Under CRS § 14-2-106(1)(b), violation of the age and parental/guardian consent requirements "shall make the marriage voidable," but not absolutely void.
Colorado State law CRS § 14-10-111 mandates the legal action to be taken, specifies which individuals are responsible for taking action, and what time limitations apply for each type of voidable marriage. Under CRS § 14-10-111, Colorado State law requires that the underage party involved in such a marriage, or the parent or guardian, would have to obtain a court decree declaring the marriage invalid. Such action for declaration of invalidity of marriage has to be commenced within 24 months of the date the marriage was entered into.
In Crystal's case, she was 16 years old when she married B~, and she did so without the consent of Ms. B~, her legal guardian. Therefore, her marriage would have been voidable, if she or Ms. B~ had taken action within 24 months of the date of the marriage.
Here, there is no evidence that either Crystal or Ms. B~ took appropriate legal action to void the marriage within 24 months of the date of the marriage, or by April 12, 1997. There are no court documents, subsequent to the marriage certificate and license, regarding the marriage. Although both Crystal and Ms. B~ claim they were told by the court that they did not have to take any legal action, they have supplied no independent evidence of such advice, and our legal research did not reveal any exceptions to the 24-month rule in the statute or case law. Therefore, it appears that the marriage of Crystal and B~ is not void, despite the fact that she was underage at the time of the marriage.
Duress or Mental Incapacity
Under Colorado law, CRS § 14-10-111(I)(a) and (e),
[t]he district court shall enter its decree declaring the invalidity of a marriage entered into under the following circumstances:
(a) A party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage at the time the marriage was solemnized, either because of mental incapacity or infirmity or because of the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances.
(e) One or both parties entered into the marriage under duress exercised by the other party or a third party, whether or not such other party knew of such exercise of duress.
In situations involving either mental incapacity or duress, however, Colorado law requires that a declaration of invalidity of marriage must be sought by either party to the marriage who was aggrieved by the conditions or by the legal representative of the party who lacked capacity to consent no later than six months after the petitioner obtained knowledge of the described condition. CRS § 14-10-111(2)(a).
The statute is unclear as to whether the six month limitation period begins to run at the time the aggrieved party or legal representative learns of the condition of mental incapacity or duress, or at the time such party learns of the marriage. Under the facts here, however, this is irrelevant, as neither Crystal nor Ms. B~ ever sought a declaration of invalidity of the marriage from the court.
Crystal's friend, Vanessa J~, stated in April 2003 that Crystal had been "forced" into the marriage by B~. While, if true, this could constitute duress, again neither Crystal nor Ms. B~ ever sought a declaration of invalidity of marriage.
Therefore, it appears that the marriage between Crystal and B~ is not void, despite the subsequent claim of duress by Vanessa J~ or a possible claim of mental incapacity.
Since Crystal was married before she became eligible for child benefits on Mr. B~'s record as his equitably adopted daughter, she was never entitled to child's insurance benefits.
Deana R. E~-L~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region VIIIBy _______________________
Bonnie E. S~
Assistant Regional Counsel