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HomeEducationJudge Joan Shkane: Dispelling myths and confusion about the legal system

Judge Joan Shkane: Dispelling myths and confusion about the legal system

By: Judge Joan Skhane:

The Honorable Judge Joan Shkane

This is a continuing discussion of Legal Myths and Reality, because an informed citizen is always the most successful citizen.

MYTH: Only adults aged 18 and over may marry.

REALITY: Nearly all states, including New York, set 18 as the minimum age to wed but every state permits exceptions to this law. The exceptions generally are a marriage with parental consent AND a judge’s consent. These laws date back to 1929. As a result more than 3,800 minors were married in New York between 2000 and 2010.

In 38 states, more than 167,000 people, nearly all girls some as young as 12, were married during the same period. These girls were mostly married to men 18 years or older. In the developing world one in three girls is married by age 18, and one in nine by age 15, with significantly older grooms. Throughout the U.S. such marriages occur in nearly every culture and religion. The arguments against minor marriage are based on statistics and psychology. Girls who marry before age nineteen are: 50 percent more likely than unmarried peers to drop out of high school; four times less likely to graduate from college; at increased risk of developing mental and physical health disorders; at increased risk of violence, sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancies; and face a very high likelihood of divorce.

Most domestic violence shelters do not accept minors in the event of violence against them, and return them to their parents who may be complicit in the violence. These children can’t legally vote, buy cigarettes, drink alcohol, or drive a motor vehicle but can marry if they meet the exceptions. The wisdom of allowing a minor to marry is under attack in many states. One sad example of parental pressure to marry was a pregnant sixteen year old. Her parents pressured her to marry the nineteen year old father to avoid society stigma as a result of the pregnancy and her unwed status.

Other sad examples are when the pregnancy exception to marriage has been used to cover up rape and to force girls to marry their rapists. This happened to a Florida girl who was pregnant at age 11. New York has proposed a revised law that would prohibit an applicant from marrying without consent under age 18. It makes it illegal to get married under 17. Parental AND judicial written consent is required between 17 and 18 years old. A judge must ensure that neither party has a history of domestic violence, or is a registered sex offender and must conduct an in-person interview with the minor to ensure that the minor is entering into a marriage of his/her own free will, not being forced, coerced or otherwise compelled to enter into the marriage, and the marriage will not endanger the mental, emotional or physical safety of the minor.

MYTH: A litigant who does not speak English may not be able to bring or defend a case in court.

REALITY: New York Courts are working to improve court interpretation services. Locally the Refugee Center assists in providing interpreters who must be certified to be official. They must be utterly independent of any parties or witnesses, and must understand confidentiality. The job is a Civil Service position and requires successfully completing an exam. They must be sworn to interpret accurately before the court proceeding. If a language is not available locally, a court can utilize remote interpreting, often by video with an interpreter in New York City. In 2016 New York courts used more than 300 court-employed and 700 freelance or  Per-Diem interpreters in more than 90,000 cases interpreting in 115 different languages. Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Haitian Creole and Arabic are the most frequently used across the court system.

There is great demand for interpreters who speak Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, Mandarin, Punjabi and Urdu, and other African and Asian languages. In Oneida County there is great need for Burmese, Karen, Somalian and Spanish interpreters. The State will soon be paying $170 for a half day of interpreter work and $300 for a full day of work.

Giving attention to legal myths is not wrong. It can be a starting point for developing an interest in the law. However, if legal issues are important in your life, for instance regarding custody of your children or money payable for any reason, it is wise to consult a lawyer who can advise you on the truth of the many legal myths. This discussion is not intended to render legal advice on specific cases or to express an opinion on any specific case or to display any predisposition.

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staff
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.

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