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What Would You Do Answers: The Case Of The Underage Fiancée

sketchy-boyfriend-resized.jpgLast week, we shared a real-life notarization scenario where a mother, her 16-year-old daughter and the daughter’s 30-year-old boyfriend appeared before a Notary.

The boyfriend presented a consent form signed by the mother giving him permission to marry the daughter. The Notary tried to engage the mother in conversation, but she did not respond clearly, and the boyfriend pressed the Notary to complete the request.

We asked our Notary community how they would handle this situation and received a flood of different responses. Here are some of the suggestions our readers offered.

What Our Notaries Said

Some Notaries felt that the involvement of a 30-year-old man with a minor girlfriend was an immediate danger sign. Stacy Lynn Shannessy said she would not proceed with the notarization without first checking her state laws to determine if marrying a minor is legal in her state. “If it is in fact legal, I would ask to speak to each individual alone to make sure no one is under duress or danger,” she said.

Other Notaries expressed concern about the mother’s refusal to communicate and said they would not proceed unless they were first allowed to speak with the mother privately and determine her wishes.

“I would ask the gentleman to leave the room. I would explain that I could not notarize the document without a private conversation with the mother,” said Mary Fahey.

Still others said they would not notarize the consent form because the mother had signed it outside their presence.

“I would not notarize a document that was already signed. I would request a new document and witness the mother signing,” said Patricia Bernier.

Standards Of Notary Practice: Signer Willingness

In this situation, there were indications that the mother may have been reluctant to participate, such as her lack of direct communication with the Notary and the boyfriend’s attempts to speak on her behalf.

Some states, such as Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and West Virginia, give their Notaries grounds to refuse a notarization if the Notary has reason to believe the signer is unwilling to sign or being coerced.

As several readers suggested, the best way to ascertain if the mother was being coerced would be to ask the other parties to leave the room then ask the mother if she wanted to proceed. If the mother refused, remained uncommunicative or the other parties refused to leave the room, the Notary would have reasonable grounds to stop the notarization.

State Marriage Age Laws

What about refusing to proceed based on the girlfriend’s age? This is a trickier question, especially since Notaries are not attorneys authorized to judge the legal validity of transactions and documents. In California, where the real-life situation took place, there is no minimum age to marry, but minors must obtain both parental consent and a court order before they can legally wed. Other states require either parental consent or judicial approval, but not both. Delaware and New Jersey enacted laws this year prohibiting individuals under age 18 from marrying with no exceptions, while Florida, Missouri and Tennessee prohibit minors from marrying adults over a certain age.

Notaries should not refuse a lawful notarization request, but if you know or suspect that a transaction may be illegal, you should not proceed with the notarization. Texas Notaries are specifically allowed to refuse if they believe a document will be used for an illegal purpose. In states that have adopted the Revised Uniform Law On Notarial Acts (RULONA), such as Iowa and Pennsylvania, Notaries are permitted to turn down a notarization request unless refusing is prohibited by another state law. 

Notarizing Pre-Signed Documents

Some readers said they would refuse the notarization because the mother signed the permission form outside their presence. However, this isn’t always a valid reason to refuse a notarization unless the requested act specifically requires signing the document before a Notary. For example, Notaries may perform an acknowledgment for a previously signed document, provided the signer appears in person with the signed document before the Notary, is properly identified and acknowledges to the Notary that they signed the document. However, a request for a jurat would have required the mother to re-sign in the Notary’s presence.

Should The Notary Have Reported The Incident?

Some readers said that in the Notary’s position, they would have notified law enforcement or a child abuse hotline about the situation. Should the Notary have done so?

Notaries are not law enforcement officers or professional investigators trained to determine if a crime is taking place. However, Article IV-E-3 of The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility recommends contacting authorities if an illegal act is performed that involves a notarization or Notary.

A Notary should report a notarization to law enforcement authorities if any of the following happens:

  • The Notary or someone else present at the notarization is threatened with physical harm or has reason to believe they are in danger.
  • The Notary is given reason to believe that the document being notarized will be used for an illegal act.
  • Someone attempts to have the Notary ignore or falsify information, such as by coercing the Notary or offering additional payment if the Notary will ignore proper procedure when notarizing. 

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

8 Comments

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Cheryl Butler Long

22 Oct 2018

Excellent teaching example! I haven't come across anything like that yet, but today is another day. Thank you!

Carr Baldwin

22 Oct 2018

Isn't the responsibility of the notary limited to identifying that the signature being notarized is in fact the person who is signing the document and that the notary statement is correct. I have notarized documents after explaining to the person that I didn't believe it was a good idea for them to sign the document, but they decided to sign it anyway.

cslaga@ci.pittsburg.ca.us

22 Oct 2018

This is great information. I am taking my training class to become a notary next week and this is good to know.

Lily Turner

22 Oct 2018

The only issue in this scenario is that the notary speak privately to the mother to ascertain that she was willing to sign the document, and under no duress. As the article states, it's not our job to enforce, or even know, the laws in our state, except those pertaining to notarization of documents. And, Carr Baldwin, it is hard to imagine why you would offer your opinion to a signed about whether or not they should sign a document. Notaries Public are supposed to be impartial, and are not meant to be legal advisors, unless also a paralegal or attorney.

Tier Williams

23 Oct 2018

“I would not notarize a document that was already signed

Virginia Mason-Greene

23 Oct 2018

I would have refused to notarize the document. The Mother was clearly not responsive, the man was a 30 y/o. If the mother had consented to resign the document (same doc) in my presence, then I would have completed the notarization. If the mother refused to sign in my presence...I would have refused.

Matt

23 Oct 2018

It isn't the notary's responsibility to determine the validity, truthfulness or accuracy of the document being signed. All CA notarial certificates state this at the top. So after verifying identity in this case, I would have only three quesitons for the mother, 1) Did you sign this document? 2) Did you sign willingly? and 3) Are you aware of what you signed? If she answered yes to all three then I am bound by law to complete the notarization.

Christine Williams

31 Oct 2018

I would not have notarized it without speaking to the daughter not the mother.

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