A friend was to be married on Saturday afternoon. He suffered a debilitating stroke Saturday morning. Today he can respond to verbal prompts to move his left hand a bit.

This occurred in the USA in the state of South Carolina but I’m also interested in law related to the issue from other areas. Could a hospital room marriage take place, given his limited physical ability, that is legally binding in every way?

  • 9
    This may be jurisdiction-specific. Which jurisdiction are you wondering about?
    – Ryan M
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 18:43
  • @RyanM this individual is a US citizen residing in South Carolina
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 18:44
  • 5
    Did you really intend to ask about his limited physical ability? It seems like only mental ability would be relevant -- I'm sure quadriplegics get married all the time.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 15:37
  • 2
    @Barmar I think the concern is that the person's only means of communication is limited movement of the left hand, so one may doubt their ability to give formal consent to the marriage or even allow one to ascertain their mental state. A quadriplegic would not normally have speech problems.
    – JoL
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 16:46
  • 2
    @JoL "A quadriplegic would not normally have speech problems." You're probably thinking of paraplegics (paralyzed from waist down). Quadriplegics are paralyzed from the neck down, and often are incapable of speech, having to rely on Steven Hawking-style machine translators that read mouth twitches or eye blinks and convert them into speach to speak.
    – nick012000
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 7:45

4 Answers 4


According to South Carolina law:

SECTION 20-1-10. Persons who may contract matrimony.
(A) All persons, except mentally incompetent persons and persons whose marriage is prohibited by this section, may lawfully contract matrimony.

(The prohibited list includes close relatives, people who are already married, people under 16, and people of the same sex, although the last one has obviously been overturned by court decisions.)

So, it would depend on whether the person was still mentally competent. According to Thompson v. Moore, 227 S.C. 417 (1955):

The term "mentally incompetent" is difficult of exact definition. Mental incompetency "in its ordinary meaning imports mental deficiency so great as to render one unable to comprehend or transact the ordinary affairs of life."

South Carolina law also has this provision:

SECTION 20-1-530. Declaration of invalidity.
If any such contract has not been consummated by the cohabitation of the parties thereto the court may declare such contract void for want of consent of either of the contracting parties or for any other cause going to show that, at the time the supposed contract was made, it was not a contract.

This could come into play since they aren't really cohabitating while one party is in the hospital.

  • 3
    I've been hunting high and low for South Carolina's legal definition of mentally incompetent to no avail, although it is referred to in a number of its laws. I guess it will be case-specific and decided by a judge based on expert medical evidence.
    – user35069
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 22:32
  • 3
    @RockApe Probably there's no single definition because it's so context-dependent. Mentally incompetent to do what? In this case, it's to form a contract and get married; in another, it's to stand trial, in another,to be able to work, etc. I'm sure there's case law somewhere on this.
    – D M
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 23:27
  • yep, case law is probably going to be the best (only?) source.
    – user35069
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 23:37
  • 1
    "The term 'mentally incompetent' is difficult of exact definition." - Thompson v. Moore, 227 S.C. 417 (1955). More helpfully, it says "Mental incompetency 'in its ordinary meaning imports mental deficiency so great as to render one unable to comprehend or transact the ordinary affairs of life.'"
    – D M
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 23:40
  • The big question is if any mentally competent person would voluntarily choose marriage. That alone may be sufficient justification to declare one as mentally incompetent. :) :) :) just kidding, of course... sort of :) Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 0:18

In this would fall within the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and depends on whether he lacks the mental not physical, capacity to make the decision for himself.

Can he:

Understand the information relevant to the decision

Retain that information

Use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision

Communicate that decision (whether by talking, using sign language or any other means).

If the answer to any of these is"no" then he cannot lawfully give true consent.

Although the Act allows for others, such as a power of attorney, to make decisions on behalf of someone lacking the mental capacity, s.27 specifically excludes the decision to marry.


In Washington state, a marriage could be challenged

because a party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage or domestic partnership, either because of mental incapacity or because of the influence of alcohol or other incapacitating substances, or because a party was induced to enter into the marriage or domestic partnership by force or duress, or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage or domestic partnership, and that the parties have not ratified their marriage or domestic partnership by voluntarily cohabiting after attaining the age of consent, or after attaining capacity to consent, or after cessation of the force or duress or discovery of the fraud, shall declare the marriage or domestic partnership invalid as of the date it was purportedly contracted

But not everybody has standing for such a challenge. One of the parties can, so can their legal guardians, or existing spouses, or their respective (including mutual) children. The challenger then has to prove that one party was mentally incompetent. Note that subsequent consummation and cohabitation or any other signs of acceptance negates the incompetence argument. There is no requirement that a person be able to read, write, hear or speak to be married in Washington.

  • 9
    This is known as bigamy, which is illegal, which is why a spouse has standing to challenge the marriage.
    – user6726
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 2:00
  • 2
    @user6726 I sincerely hope that law gets repealed in our lifetime.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 12:12
  • 8
    @alephzero Many of the deafblind can do none of the above, yet can communicate via various means (think Helen Keller). Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 15:42
  • 1
    You can challenge someone's wedding if they don't move in together? Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 18:09
  • 1
    @AzorAhai-him-: Yes. Sometimes marriages are created to fool the law. We don't want those disrupting inheritance.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 22:27

In , consent can be presumed from past actions and behavior. In this case, having a wedding planned for later the same week, rings bought, and so on would probably work.

The same principle allows marriage of a dead fiancee.

  • Seems like the link is about "marriage in extremis of a partner whose death is imminent". That seems quite specific (I understood "incapacitated" as still alive, but whose autonomy has been heavily impacted, such as heavy physical disability).
    – Clockwork
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 0:32

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