A MINORITY CONUNDRUM

March 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

I posted here about a case pending in my court in which a lawyer had filed a motion to void two agreed judgments for custody that had been executed by a 19-year-old mother. The basis for his motion was that the mother lacked the legal capacity to execute the judgments, and that they were not binding on her in any way.

The lawyers have settled the case, and the now-22-year-old mother has signed an agreed order that has the effect of supplanting the previous agreed judgments. So the concern about her legal capacity is moot in that case.

Still, the state of the law has me concerned. I did not find any authority for an unmarried minor to enter into an agreed judgment in  a case of this sort. Neither did my staff attorney or even other judges who took the time to answer my query on our listserv. I found no authority, either, for subsequent ratification or approval by the court, although other states have addressed the ratification issue.

The reason for my concern is that a married minor is considered emancipated for the purpose of dealing with divorce, custody and support, but an unmarried minor is in a legal limbo vis a vis his or her offspring. Is there any legal or policy reason, given Mississippi’s high rate of unmarried parenthood, why we do not go ahead and recognize that young, unmarried parents, at least in the 18-21 age group, should not also be considered emancipated for the purpose of dealing with child custody and other parentage issues? Young people in that age group are emancipated by law to deal with their choses in action, so why do we not emancipate them by statute to deal with their parentage issues?

I wish that the legislature would look at this issue in light of the reality many of see every day in our state: children are having children. We have to have effective ways to deal with that.

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