BOISE, Idaho –
A legal loophole in Idaho that allows parents of teens to void child custody agreements by arranging child marriages will remain in effect, the state Supreme Court ruled. on Tuesday.
In a split decision, the high court refused to decide whether Idaho’s child marriage law – which allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry if one parent agrees to marry – was unconstitutional. Instead, the judges say that once a child is released by marriage, the family court loses jurisdiction over custody issues.
The case stemmed from a custody battle between a Boise woman and her ex-husband, who planned to move to Florida and wanted to bring their 16-year-old daughter with her. The ex-husband is accused of arranging a “sham marriage” between his daughter and another teenager as a way to end the custody battle.
It’s not an uncommon scenario – all but seven states allow minors under the age of 18 to marry, according to Unchained At Last, an organization that opposes child marriage. Nevada, Idaho, Arkansas and Kentucky have the highest rates of child marriage per capita, according to the organization. Although minors are generally considered legally liberated after marriage, they generally still have limited legal rights and therefore may not be able to file for divorce or obtain a protection order.
Erin Carver and William Hornish divorced in 2012, and only their youngest child was still living at home last year when both sides began a dispute over custody arrangements.
Carver said she knew Hornish was planning a “fake marriage” to end the custody battle, and asked the family court judge to stop the marriage plans. Days later, the magistrate magistrate agreed, but it was too late. Teenagers are married.
The high court heard the arguments in March, and Carver’s attorney argued that the child marriage law was unconstitutional because it allows one parent to terminate the other parent’s rights without due process. . Hornish’s attorney, Geoffrey Goss, countered that his client was acting legally and in accordance with state law.
In Tuesday’s ruling, a majority of the Supreme Court justices said that because the marriage happened before the original judgment, the family court had lost its jurisdiction. The high court said that once a child is married, they are free and no longer subject to a custody arrangement.
The judges also declined to consider whether the law was legal under the state constitution, in part saying neither side had made sufficient legal arguments on the matter. However, the supreme court has found that the law is clearly not unconstitutional.
Judges Gregory Moeller and John Stegner disagreed with the majority opinion, finding that the lower court could have done more to “address the outrageous actions of a father,” by doing for the original order to take effect again. That could allow Carver to annul the marriage as a custodial parent.
Moeller wrote in dissent: “Father not only mocked our marriage laws, but also subjected his 16-year-old Daughter to the potentially life-altering consequences of an unfavorable marriage and hurry”.
The Associated Press could not find Hornish’s contact information and his attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither Carver nor her attorney immediately responded to a request for comment.
Other Idaho families have been closely monitoring the case.
Ryan Small, a Boise man who has been embroiled in a similar custody battle, said he was disappointed by the ruling. Small tried to keep his ex-wife out of state with their son last winter when he learned the 16-year-old had secretly married another teenager with his mother’s permission.
Small has not seen the boy since November 15, 2021, and because the boy is considered liberated, Small has little ability to track him down or bring him back to Idaho.
“I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided to ignore the question of the constitutionality of the law,” Small said Tuesday. “Parents’ role is to protect their children, and courts that don’t follow the constitutionality of the law will allow abusive parents to use their children as pawns to circumvent court protection. judgment.”