7Investigates: Child Marriage in Massachusetts

BOSTON (WHDH) - How old do you have to be to get married in Massachusetts? If you’re thinking 18 you’re wrong. Investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan found brides as young as 14. And it’s all legal. How can that happen? Hank Investigates.

In a home South of Boston where family members gathered, a marriage ceremony took place that might shock you.

The bride was a sophomore at New Bedford High School. Not old enough to drive, to vote, to get her own credit card, or toast her own marriage with champagne.

Her husband: a 25-year-old man, who Tammy said convinced her he loved her.

“It’s kind of like a blur because, you know, I didn’t really know what I was getting into at all,” Tammy said.

And our investigation found it’s all legal.

Massachusetts law says anyone under 18 can get married if they get permission from a parent and a judge.

Tammy was just 16.

“You know that one moment changed the course of my whole life,” Tammy said.

How often do minors in Massachusetts get married? The most recent records show since 2000 it’s happened more than 1200 times.

The executive director of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, Tammy Mello said state law is archaic.

“Quite honestly any child any age with parental consent under the statute could marry,” she said. “It’s horrifying.”

Our investigation found most couples are younger women, some as young as 14, married to older men, sometimes a decade or two older.

In Worcester County, a 17-year-old girl married a 39-year-old man.

In Middlesex County, a 16-year-old girl was married to a 28-year-old man.

In Hampden County, a 15-year-old girl was married to a 26-year-old man.

If that couple wasn’t married, sex between them could be considered statutory rape.

“It really is disturbing. I mean it’s essentially we’re giving legal permission for that to occur,” Mello said.

Some say it would be disturbing if states tried to interfere with people’s religious beliefs or the right to marry, but If the marriage doesn’t work out?

Minors can’t file for a restraining order or divorce without a parent, guardian or court-approved assistance.

Stats show young women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and married minors are more likely to drop out of school.

Tammy, who quit after her sophomore year, now has eight children, is getting divorced and warns being a child bride did not end like a fairytale.

“What is your message now?” Hank asked.

“My message and my goal is to stop this from happening to other young girls,” Tammy said.

At the State House, some legislators are trying to do that. They’ve filed a bill to make 18 the legal age for marriage in Massachusetts.

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