51-2.1. Marriage of certain underage parties.

(a) If an unmarried female who is more than 14 years of age, but less than 16 years of age, is pregnant or has given birth to a child and the unmarried female and the putative father of the child, either born or unborn, agree to marry, or if an unmarried male who is more than 14 years of age, but less than 16 years of age, is the putative father of a child, either born or unborn, and the unmarried male and the mother of the child agree to marry, the register of deeds is authorized to issue to the parties a license to marry; and it shall be lawful for them to marry in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter, only after a certified copy of an order issued by a district court authorizing the marriage is filed with the register of deeds. A district court judge may issue an order authorizing a marriage under this section only upon finding as fact and concluding as a matter of law that the underage party is capable of assuming the responsibilities of marriage and the marriage will serve the best interest of the underage party. In determining whether the marriage will serve the best interest of an underage party, the district court shall consider the following:

(1) The opinion of the parents of the underage party as to whether the marriage serves the best interest of the underage party.

(2) The opinion of any person, agency, or institution having legal custody or serving as a guardian of the underage party as to whether the marriage serves the best interest of the underage party.

(3) The opinion of the guardian ad litem appointed to represent the best interest of the underage party pursuant to G.S. 51-2.1(b) as to whether the marriage serves the best interest of the underage party.

(4) The relationship between the underage party and the parents of the underage party, as well as the relationship between the underage party and any person having legal custody or serving as a guardian of the underage party.

(5) Any evidence that it would find useful in making its determination.

There shall be a rebuttable presumption that the marriage will not serve the best interest of the underage party when all living parents of the underage party oppose the marriage. The fact that the female is pregnant, or has given birth to a child, alone does not establish that the best interest of the underage party will be served by the marriage.

(b) An underage party seeking an order granting judicial authorization to marry pursuant to this section shall file a civil action in the district court requesting judicial authorization to marry. The clerk shall collect court costs from the underage party in the amount set forth in G.S. 7A-305 for civil actions in district court. Upon the filing of the complaint, summons shall be issued in accordance with G.S. 1A-1, Rule 4, and the underage party shall be appointed a guardian ad litem in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 1A-1, Rule 17. The guardian ad litem appointed shall be an attorney and shall be governed by the provisions of subsection (d) of this section. The underage party shall serve a copy of the summons and complaint, in accordance with G.S. 1A-1, Rule 4, on the father of the underage party; the mother of the underage party; and any person, agency, or institution having legal custody or serving as a guardian of the underage party. The underage party also shall serve a copy of the complaint, either in accordance with G.S. 1A-1, Rule 4, or G.S. 1A-1, Rule 5, on the guardian ad litem appointed pursuant to this section. A party responding to the underage party's complaint shall serve his response within 30 days after service of the summons and complaint upon that person. The underage party may participate in the proceedings before the court on his or her own behalf. At the hearing conducted pursuant to this section, the court shall consider evidence, as provided in subsection (a) of this section, and shall make written findings of fact and conclusions of law.

(c) Any party to a proceeding under this section may be represented by counsel, but no party is entitled to appointed counsel, except as provided in this section.

(d) The guardian ad litem appointed pursuant to subsection (b) of this section shall represent the best interest of the underage party in all proceedings under this section and also has standing to institute an action under G.S. 51-2(c). The appointment shall terminate when the last judicial ruling rendering the authorization granted or denied is entered. Payment of the guardian ad litem shall be governed by G.S. 7A-451(f). The guardian ad litem shall make an investigation to determine the facts, the needs of the underage party, the available resources within the family and community to meet those needs, the impact of the marriage on the underage party, and the ability of the underage party to assume the responsibilities of marriage; facilitate, when appropriate, the settlement of disputed issues; offer evidence and examine witnesses at the hearing; and protect and promote the best interest of the underage party. In fulfilling the guardian ad litem's duties, the guardian ad litem shall assess and consider the emotional development, maturity, intellect, and understanding of the underage party. The guardian ad litem has the authority to obtain any information or reports, whether or not confidential, that the guardian ad litem deems relevant to the case. No privilege other than attorney-client privilege may be invoked to prevent the guardian ad litem and the court from obtaining such information. The confidentiality of the information or reports shall be respected by the guardian ad litem, and no disclosure of any information or reports shall be made to anyone except by order of the court or unless otherwise provided by law.

(e) If the last judicial ruling in this proceeding denies the underage party judicial authorization to marry, the underage party shall not seek the authorization of any court again under this section until after one year from the date of the entry of the last judicial ruling rendering the authorization denied.

(f) Except as otherwise provided in this section, the rules of evidence in civil cases shall apply to proceedings under this section. All hearings pursuant to this section shall be recorded by stenographic notes or by electronic or mechanical means. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no appeal of right lies from an order or judgment entered pursuant to this section. (2001-62, s. 3.)