Can Mentally Challenged Couples Marry?

Hemera Technologies/ Images

It might seem an odd question to ask at first, but whether or not those with certain mental challenges can marry ties into their ability to be bound by law. For instance, sometimes people are not charged with crimes based on mental status that sets them outside the law. What needs to be discerned is the line that determines whether or not a person can enter into a legally binding contract such as marriage.

Definition of the Problem

One key to whether or not a couple can marry when mental problems are present is the type of mental challenges and the severity of those problems. Typically, the degree of disability is determined by the IQ of the people in question. Once a person's IQ is consistently established as below 70, they are typically grouped into a category that ranges between light and severe mental retardation. This is when legal questions regarding marriage begin to arise.

State Law

Whether or not a person with a developmental disability is allowed to marry is something that is determined by the individual states. If people born with these conditions choose to marry, usually the union is allowed to proceed regardless of local law. However, some states don't have any laws of this type and people will have no problems getting married. In Maine, a marriage could be potentially annulled if a person was proved to have mental retardation to a degree where they might not be able to make an informed decision about marriage. Marriage of severely mentally handicapped people is prohibited by Maine law.


The problems with these types of marriages arises when someone objects to the union of someone that is developmentally challenged; for instance, if a loved one, parent, family member or caregiver decides that a wedding shouldn't take place. In that case, the person can file a legal complaint where they state that the person is not mentally competent to enter into a marriage contract. The court then has to weigh the concerns of the guardian against the constitutional rights of the person getting married.


Another legal concern that is connected to the marriage of challenged individuals is that of reproduction. Some express concerns over the ability of married couples with severe challenges to raise children in a safe environment. A married couple where both parties were developmentally disabled would stand the risk in some cases of having children removed from the home if deemed unfit as parents.