Marriage ceremony

Georgia no longer allows 16-year-olds to marry and has made it tougher to marry at 17.

RINGGOLD — The average age at which American men marry for the first time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 29.8 years old. For women, it’s 27.8 years old.

But in an effort to protect those who do wish to marry very young from predatory or abusive relationships or simply from poor choices, and to protect the young from forced marriages, the state of Georgia has enacted legislation that now prohibits 16-year-olds from marrying and makes it a lot harder for 17-year-olds to marry.

HB 228 was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday. In addition to banning the marriage of anyone under the age of 17, the new law mandates that 17-year-olds, if they wish to marry, must be emancipated (legally freed of the authority of their parents or guardians), must have completed a premarital education course and cannot marry anyone more than four years older than themselves.

Premarital education, says the bill, “shall include at least six hours of instruction involving marital issues, which may include but not be limited to conflict management, communication skills, financial responsibilities, child and parenting responsibilities and extended family roles.”

The bill also states that “premarital education shall include instruction on the potential risks of marrying young, including, but not limited to: high divorce rates, increased rates of non-completion of education, greater likelihood of poverty, medical and mental health problems, information on domestic violence and website and telephone resources for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.”

The new law does not affect those who marry at 17 or under in other states or countries.

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.