You have requested our opinion concerning the validity of an underage marriage. Specifically,
you have asked whether such a marriage would be void or voidable where the claimant
misrepresented that they were of legal age. For the reasons stated below, we find
that the marriage would, at most, be considered voidable.
In this case, the claimant was born March 2, 1971 and became entitled to child's insurance
benefits in April 1985. The claimant was married on April 15, 1988 in Rhode Island
at the age of seventeen. Following her marriage, the claimant's entitlement to benefits
was terminated effective April 1988.
The marriage ended in divorce on October 6, 1998. The claimant then filed, on December
31, 1996, for benefits as a disabled child. This claim was disallowed because of the
claimant's previous marriage. The claimant acknowledged that she had been married,
but stated that the marriage should be considered void since she had lied about her
age when she was married.
Upon reviewing Rhode Island law, we have determined that the claimant's marriage was
not void. Although the claimant lied about her age, as a general rule when a license
is improperly issued neither the license or the marriage is void, in the absence of
an express statutory declaration of invalidity. Under Rhode Island law, the only categories
of marriage considered void are those prohibited on account of consanguinity or affinity
between the parties, or on account of either party having a living spouse. R.I. Gen.
Laws §§ 15-1-1 through 15-1-5.
Instead, the claimant's marriage would have been considered voidable -- valid unless
adjudicated invalid. While claimant had the opportunity to avoid her marriage upon
reaching legal majority, she clearly did not do this. Nor did the claimant try to
avoid her marriage on the basis of her age at any time prior to her divorce in 1996.
Therefore, in this case the claimant's marriage was, at most, voidable during its