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Emancipation bill introduced to bolster push for underage marriage ban

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, says legislation creating a path to emancipation for minors should allay concerns some have about a bill banning marriage for minors. ‘The purists regarding the age of marriage think that it really should just be 18, period, but I do think it will be more accepted by members if there is a process where someone can ask for an exception to the minimum age,’ she says. (File photo)

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, says legislation creating a path to emancipation for minors should allay concerns some have about a bill banning marriage for minors. ‘The purists regarding the age of marriage think that it really should just be 18, period, but I do think it will be more accepted by members if there is a process where someone can ask for an exception to the minimum age,’ she says.
(File photo)

Legislation creating a path to emancipation for minors in Maryland has been introduced in the General Assembly, with sponsors hoping it will address some concerns raised about pending legislation to ban marriage for individuals younger than 18.

House Bill 1304, introduced Friday, is sponsored by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, who mentioned the bill was being drafted at a hearing earlier this month on her child marriage bill that eliminates exceptions in the law that allow children as young as 15 to marry.

Atterbeary said Monday she was told her bill is the first emancipation law to be introduced in the General Assembly.

The bill allows individuals age 16 and older to file a petition to become emancipated if they marry, enter the armed forces or meet a series of criteria, including proof they are living separate and apart from parents or guardians and able to support themselves.

Affidavits must be submitted by individuals with knowledge of the petitioner’s circumstances that can vouch for their maturity and testify that emancipation is in their best interest.

Once a petition is filed, a best interest attorney is appointed to the petitioner and a judge holds a hearing within 60 days.

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery and vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is a co-sponsor of both bills and said the emancipation legislation is aimed, at least in part, at opponents to the marriage bill.

“The purists regarding the age of marriage think that it really should just be 18, period, but I do think it will be more accepted by members if there is a process where someone can ask for an exception to the minimum age,” she said.

Dumais called the “bright lines” in the marriage bill worrisome at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1 and expressed support for an emancipation option.

Some legislators and advocates said they would want the child marriage bill and emancipation to be combined. But Atterbeary said while she has not ruled out combining the bills, she does not want the two issues to be intrinsically linked, if possible.

“I don’t want people to think that emancipation is tied to marriage, because it’s not,” she said. “There are a lot of other reasons people might want to be emancipated aside from marriage.”

The emancipation law was modeled after the American Bar Association’s recommended statute and other states’.

Virginia’s recent ban on underage marriage included an exception for emancipated minors and referenced the state’s emancipation statute.

Maryland currently does not have a judicial process for emancipating minors but it comes up in family law cases where child support is an issue, according to Dumais.

A hearing on the emancipation bill is scheduled for March 8 at 1 p.m. in the House Judiciary Committee. No Senate cross-file was listed as of Monday evening.


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