'I do' at 14: Michigan's secret child marriages

posted by 24 Hour News 8 - 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Adults in Michigan are marrying children as young as 14 and it's perfectly legal.

Few people know because the state hides the marriage documents, sealing them from the public.

Ann (a pseudonym), married in West Michigan at the age of 14.

"We went to the courthouse. It took five minutes," she said. "I think we kissed or something, and that was it."

Now nearly 40 and living in Florida, Ann told Target 8 the decision that was made for her decades ago still affects her life.

She asked that her real name not be used to protect her family. Target 8 is also not using her husband's name.

Her story is one of many. Michigan has recorded dozens or even hundreds of child marriages in a year.

"It sets a person up to be taken advantage of," Ann said.

MARRIED 'BECAUSE THEY WANTED ME TO, I GUESS'

Ann  was living in the small Montcalm County town of Vestaburg in 1995 when  she met the man she would marry. She was 13. He was 17.

"I was smitten as soon as I saw him," she remembered.

She  said the relationship started out innocently. But when her boyfriend  turned 18 a year later, Ann's father, who was unhappy about the  relationship, threatened him with jail.

"My dad looked it up and figured out it would be statutory rape because I was so young," Ann said.

Ann said her boyfriend became suicidal.

When asked why she got married at 14, she didn't have a clear answer:

"I  don't know. Because they wanted me to, I guess," she said. "I loved  him. I didn't want him to die. My mom wanted me to get married."

She  added that she didn't want to get married, but felt pressured. She said  her boyfriend stayed up all night convincing her to marry him the next  day.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, she went to the courthouse  and said, "I do." There was no ring, no flowers and no questions asked.  The only requirement was one parent's signature.

"They actually  gave us the paper to take it home to sign, like it was a permission  slip," Ann explained. "You know, to go on a field trip. That's it."

JUDGE CAN OK MARRIAGE REGARDLESS OF AGE

Under  Michigan law, you need to be 18 to get married without restrictions. At  age 16 and 17, you need parental consent. Those younger than 16 need a  parent's and a judge's approval. With a judge's approval, there is no  age limit.

"That I could get married under the age that I could consent to sex, that blows my mind," Ann said.

Child  marriages like Ann's happen every year in Michigan. In 2000, there were  537. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, there  were 116.

It was while trying to pull the records for Ann's  marriage that Target 8 found out how the secret is so well kept. The  records are sealed. The state hides the identities of the bride and  groom. Even with Ann and her husband's name, Target 8 couldn't get a  copy of their marriage license. Only the husband and wife can unseal the  record, and they have to do it in person.

The majority of  Michigan's underage marriages, 84 percent, involve girls marrying adult  men. It took a Freedom of Information Act request to discover some teen  girls are marrying men three times their age. One record listed a  15-year-old bride and a 48-year-old groom.

Full story from WOODTV.com

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