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Trouwen op je 13e?

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Boynton man fights law after daughter, 13, weds in Georgia

Consent isn't needed if bride is pregnant

A Boynton Beach man is fighting to change Florida and Georgia laws that allow children to marry without parental consent if the bride-to-be is pregnant.

Brandon Balch said he was not there to walk his daughter, 13, down the aisle when she married a 14-year-old in Georgia last year and wants the little-known law revoked.

Balch claims that his ex-wife, who lives in Alabama with his daughter, used the legal loophole to end their custody battle. He said she allowed his daughter to get married in Georgia because the law there allows children to marry without their parents' consent.

After learning of his daughter's marriage, Balch launched a campaign to change the law in Georgia and in Florida, which has a similar statute. Florida law says a judge may, at his or her discretion, issue a marriage license to an underage couple without parental consent if a doctor provides a written statement verifying the pregnancy.

"It's horrible," Balch said. "My daughter's childhood has been taken from her."

When contacted through her attorney, the girl's mother, Kim Williams, declined to comment. She also declined to respond to an e-mailed list of questions about the case.

Balch said his wife told him their daughter's pregnancy ended in a miscarriage shortly after the wedding. But under the law, her marriage emancipated her from parental control, effectively ending the custody dispute, he said.

The law, which was intended to prevent out-of-wedlock births, is outdated and ineffective, Balch said.

Even if children are allowed to form their own families, they will not be able to work or drive to care for their children, he said.

"There's no way that getting married at that age is to her benefit," he said.

However, legislators were probably thinking of the unborn child when they changed the Florida law in 1937 to allow children to marry, said Bob Jarvis, a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University.

At the time, a child born out of wedlock would face the stigma of illegitimacy. Though the stigma is not as great now, the law recognizes that it is still in the best interests of a child to be born to married parents, Jarvis said.

"There is a third person involved, and do you really want that person to start off with the stigma of illegitimacy?" he asked.

At first, Balch's campaign fell largely on deaf ears. Balch's sister, Sharon Cline, of Weston, said she contacted every legislator in Georgia. She even sent a copy of a transcript of a popular television sitcom lampooning the state's law.

One Georgia state representative, Wendell Willard, R-Atlanta, wrote back saying that "there is no fault in Georgia statute" and that "redress would be with the courts."

But lately, Balch and his sister's efforts are bearing fruit.

"We tried talking to them for months and months," Cline said.

"Now they are starting to listen."

News of a pregnant woman, 37, who married a neighbor, 15, in Georgia in November brought the law to public scrutiny.

Cline and her brother said they recently started to contact Florida legislators with mixed results. Several have not responded or declined to sponsor a change in the law. But state Rep. Susan K. Goldstein, R-Sunrise, has been sympathetic to their cause.

Goldstein said she imagined her children making that kind of decision and was horrified.

Goldstein said she has spoken with state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, about changing the law in Florida.

Balch and Cline also are making inroads in Georgia with several representatives, including Georgia Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates. She agreed to sponsor legislation requiring parental consent for marriages involving children younger than 18.

Balch's efforts to change the law have landed him on several national television talk shows, including The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News on Dec. 5 and Scarborough Country on MSNBC in November. He said the publicity is forcing legislators to take a second look.

By changing the law, Balch said, he wants to keep other parents from falling into his situation.

"It's too late for me, and all I can do is hope that when she grows up, she realizes what I'm trying to do," Balch said. "I'm just trying to prevent this from happening to other parents again."
#1 - 16-01-2006, 16:14 uur
"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America"

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