I was recently approached by a young person asking whether they can legally marry. She was 16 and deeply in love with their 20 year old boyfriend of 4 months. The short answer is “yes, a 16-year-old can marry. NRS 122.020(3) states that a person as young as 16 can marry, but they must obtain the consent of one parent or their legal guardian. The more important question is: should they?
We know from years of social science and medical research that the majority of 16-year-olds do not have the life experience or judgment to make such important life decisions. Roughly 70% of 16-year-olds divorce within 10 years, and that number increases when their partner is more than four years older than they are. They typically lack the experience gained from repeated dating necessary to select a partner that is well suited for them. Those that marry young often have difficult home lives (and thus poor relationship modeling) that they are consciously or unconsciously trying to escape, and they find themselves in another difficult relationship that they then have difficulty leaving or even coping with because they don't have the emotional fortitude or confidence to do so. Those individuals often marry because they have a child, or they have one early in that relationship. And they then have a harder time with future relationships due the the presence of a child or the loss of whatever trust they might have had in finding an appropriate partner.
The human brain does not fully develop until our mid-20s, and the last part to develop is the prefrontal cortex - the "judgment center" of the brain. So research and experience suggests that the most successful marriages occur starting in our mid-20s, and up. Frankly, the older partner should be willing to wait until the 16-year-old is emotionally capable of having a healthy adult relationship. So my advice as someone who handles these cases is to wait and seek the counsel of a trusted adviser who's older and has had a successful long-term marriage.They are going to be far more objective and realistic in the likelihood of success of this budding relationship.