16 and Married No More and Other Changes from Act 18 to the Domestic Relations Statute

By Kerven M. Moon, Esq.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended its Domestic Relations (title 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes) statute with the passage of Act 18 (“Act”), previously known as HB 360. The Act provides changes to the issuance of marriage licenses and background check clearance provisions concerning Child Protective Services because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Act’s most drastic and noteworthy amendment relates to 23 Pa.C.S. §1304 restricting minors from obtaining a marriage license. The Act now requires individuals to be at least 18 years of age in order to apply for a marriage license. This is a significant change and departure from the prior provision that allowed minors under the age of 18 to be issued a marriage license with consent of their parent or guardian, and those under the age of 16 to be issued a marriage license if a court decides it is in the best interest of the applicant. The Act simplifies there are no longer any circumstances for a minor to obtain a marriage license in Pennsylvania. A minor who obtained a marriage license prior to the enactment of the Act or a minor who has a valid marriage license from another state will continue to have their marriage honored within the Commonwealth.

While the Act restricts who can obtain a marriage license, it has made the process of attaining a marriage license more convenient and safe for citizens. Per 23 Pa. C.S. §1306(a), each applicant of a marriage license shall appear in person to be examined under oath to the legality of their marriage. As a result of the amendment to 23 Pa. C.S. §1306(b), the General Assembly now expands the in-person requirement exception to include if a person is unable to appear in-person because the office of the register of wills is closed due to a state of disaster emergency declared by the Governor or a declaration of judicial emergency. It is clear that the current pandemic has influenced this amendment by providing an avenue to obtain a marriage license in the face of a pandemic or disaster without the need for an in-person oral examination. This amendment not only makes things easier for citizens, but helps ensure the health and safety of citizens. The statute still provides an exception for a person who is in the active military from having to appear in person. Under the outlined exceptions, if a person is unable to appear in person they will be required to forward an affidavit verifying the legality of their marriage as required by 23 Pa. C.S. §1306(a) to the issuing authority.

Lastly, another substantial change involves the addition of a new section to the Domestic Relations statute. The Act adds 23 Pa. C.S. §6387 titled the “Pandemic of 2020” which impacts Child Protective Services background checks. The amendment pertains to those who are required to obtain certification through a federal criminal background check that requires in-person fingerprinting. Many of the fingerprinting facilities are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions that has made it challenging for those to obtain proper certification clearances. As such, the amendment allows individuals who are required to obtain recertification pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S. §6344(b)(3), which relates to employees who have contact with minors including adoptive/foster parents, will now have until December 31, 2020 to obtain proper certification. Under 23 Pa. C.S. §6344(b)(3), the certification requires individuals who work with or come in  contact with minors are required to submit fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police for purpose of a records check and obtain a federal criminal history record from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”).  The amendment also allows Pennsylvania residents to commence employment prior to obtaining this certification if they affirm that they: have been a resident of the Commonwealth for the prior 10 consecutive years, unable to obtain proper certification due to OVID-19 implications, have not been disqualified from employment or convicted of a crime outlined in 6344 (c), and provided the required documentation outlined in §6344(b)(1)-(2) to their employer prior to the start of their employment. The required documentation in 23 Pa. C.S. §6344(b)(1) and (2) that allows an individual to commence work without the FBI criminal history check includes a report of their criminal history from the Pennsylvania State Police and child abuse background check from the appropriate department. An individual who commences employment shall be required to submit the information required under §6344(b)(3) no later than December 31, 2020, or 60 days after the expiration of the declaration of disaster emergency issued by Governor Wolf on March 6, 2020.These additions provide employees with more flexibility to gain and maintain employment as they confront challenges from COVID-19 restrictions.

In sum, Act 18 is a direct response to the current realities of the Covid-19 pandemic and the collateral impact it has had. While the most notable change is restricting minors from getting a marriage license, these amendments to the Domestic Relations statute provide a convenient and safe alternative to obtaining a marriage license and child protective service certification.