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Idaho Supreme Court punts on child marriage case

A room inside the Idaho Supreme Court with multiple empty chairs and two flags.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s law allowing minors to marry in a case involving a child custody battle.

In a 3-2 decision, the majority says there are constitutional concerns about the law that allows just one parent to consent to the marriage of a minor child, but that the case needs to be fleshed out in a lower court.

Merritt Dublin, director of University of Idaho College of Law’s Family Justice Clinic, said there’s another clear message from all the justices.

“There is a callout to the legislature to try to fix the situation so that it doesn’t happen again,” Dublin said.

At issue is a joint custody agreement between William Hornish and Erin Carver who had been divorced since 2012, but they still co-parented a 16-year-old daughter.

Hornish wanted sole custody of their daughter so they could move to Florida last year, but Carver objected.

According to the ruling, Hornish took their daughter to Florida and stayed past the date when he was supposed to exchange her with Carver, returning her to Idaho four days later.

That’s when Carver asked a magistrate judge for primary custody.

After a judge set a trial date for March 2022, Carver claimed she received a phone call from a woman in Florida who said her son knew her daughter.

The woman told Carver her daughter offered to do his homework for the rest of the year if he would marry her and that Hornish approved of the plan, according to court documents.

Carver said the woman opposed the plan, with Hornish allegedly telling her he’d find another young man to marry the daughter.

Carver filed a motion with the court to expedite the case, but no ruling came until Nov. 5, 2021 – just a few days after the daughter married a man in Canyon County.

Because the daughter was then emancipated from her parents through the marriage, the magistrate court ruled it had no authority over her anymore.

Despite the court’s previous ruling that such a marriage would harm both Carver and the daughter, “…the only marriages clearly declared void by the Idaho legislature are incestuous and polygamous marriages,” wrote Justice Robyn Brody.

Other contested marriages could be voidable, but they would have to undergo an annulment process – something that didn’t take place.

Unlike Idaho, where the consent of just one parent can justify the marriage of a minor child, most states that allow such marriages give consideration to households with divorced parents.

Brody, writing for the majority, declined to rule on the law’s constitutionality, saying the briefs and oral arguments were “lacking.”

“…though it has not been proven that the marriage was a sham perpetrated to deprive the magistrate court of jurisdiction, Carver’s allegation to this effect is troubling if true,” she wrote.

In his dissent, Justice Gregory Moeller skewered Hornish.

“Just as parents are expected to act in their children’s best interests, they are also expected to respect the court’s role in defining those best interests,” said Moeller. “Here, [Hornish’s] actions in this case show a strong proclivity to do neither.”

“[He] has not only made a mockery of our marriage laws, he has also exposed his 16-year-old daughter to the potential life altering consequences of an ill-conceived and hasty marriage of convenience.”

Moeller said the magistrate court could’ve ordered an evidentiary hearing to clear up these allegations.

If state legislators were to take up the issue, they’d next be able to do so when they reconvene in January.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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