Annulment and Fraud

Annulment and Fraud

I get lots of requests for more information about annulments. Hey, I get it! For one thing, they’re pretty prevalent in the media, and there seems to be this general misconception that an annulment is an easy thing to get – especially if the marriage is really short, or if it wasn’t consummated, or something like that.

The truth is, though, that in my nearly 9 years with the firm, I’ve never even done one. I can’t think of another attorney who I’ve worked with who has handled one, either. That says something, doesn’t it? In an entire firm that ONLY handles domestic relations type cases, we really don’t do annulments. And it’s not because we wouldn’t; it’s because an annulment is THAT HARD to get. (Well, that, and I’m just not sure the extra effort and expense is really worthwhile, but I’ll get into that in a little bit.)

There are all sorts of reasons you could get an annulment (theoretically at least), but the one that everyone seems to latch onto is fraud. I think that’s mostly because it sounds so general, and it’s easy to think of a lot of things that he may or may not have disclosed prior to the marriage that might, in retrospect, seem material. Maybe you would’ve married him anyway, maybe you wouldn’t have – but you didn’t know, and isn’t that fraud?

Well, it’s hard to say exactly what constitutes fraud, but in general, there are four criteria that we look to when we’re making that determination:

1. Your spouse lied or misrepresented something to you.
2. The lie or misrepresentation was intentional.
3. You relied on your husband’s lie or misrepresentation.
4. You were hurt because you relied on your husband’s lie or misrepresentation.

I think the first 2 are pretty easy to show. If there’s anything that he didn’t tell you, you could argue that it was intentionally done.
I think where it gets tricky is the whole “reliance’ part, and also the part where you have to prove that you were hurt by the misrepresentation.

I have an example. I met with a woman the other day who found out, after marriage, that her husband had a criminal history that she wasn’t aware of. She DID know that he had a suspended driver’s license because of some DUIs, but she didn’t know that there were some theft charges against him as well. In fact, it seems like he told her some kind of story to explain the criminal charges away. It wasn’t until after the marriage that she found out that his story really didn’t add up.

But did she RELY on that explanation? Was it that important to her? And did it really hurt her in any way to find out that what he told her wasn’t true? I’m not sure how to prove that knowing or not knowing about his theft charges would have made a difference, or just that those charges themselves hurt her.

There’s also the fact that when she found out about it was not when the marriage officially ended. Technically, to allege some kind of fault against one party, you have to separate and not resume cohabitation. In this case, it seems to me like she was mostly trying to keep that as an ace in her back pocket that she could pull out to suit her needs. It’s not like she found out about the theft, moved out, and never looked back. I think that would have to happen to prove it to a judge’s satisfaction.

Because that’s ultimately what it’s all about. It’s about whether, when it comes down to it, the judge felt you sufficiently relied on his explanation, and then were harmed by finding out that explanation wasn’t true. Where’s the harm here? I’m not sure, and she didn’t say. To her, I think it was more the fact that he lied – but, again, I don’t think that would ultimately be enough for the court.

But, hey, I’m not here to be a Debbie downer. That’s never my goal. But I do want to paint a realistic expectation, and, to get an annulment, you’d have to prove to the judge that your grounds exist. You’d have to have an actual trial. And that’s both expensive and time consuming. Before we go to all that trouble, I’d want to be sure our grounds were strong, wouldn’t you? Because, if you go to court, and you DON’T prove it to the judge, you’re still married. You’re back to square one, and then you have to go through the divorce process anyway.

Litigation is expensive. And if the marriage just isn’t working out, you may very well be better suited to just go ahead and get an uncontested divorce. There’s no trial required, you can reach an agreement, and then just go your separate ways. It’s often faster, too – since you don’t have to wait for time on the court’s docket. Since you likely don’t have children in common anyway, you can get divorced in just six months if you have a signed separation agreement. That’s pretty fast – in fact, by court standards, that’s lightning speed!
I know that it seems tempting to place your eggs in the annulment basket, but it’s often not practical. It’s expensive and time consuming, not to mention unlikely to really provide the relief you want. Even if you can prove to the judge that your grounds qualify as fraud (and just because he omitted something he maybe should have told you about or that places him in a bad light), it will likely be much more difficult than a divorce.

Wondering about your grounds for annulment? Want to discuss with an attorney? That’s smart. It’s always a good idea to talk to someone with experience before you get too invested in a particular course of action. And the more you know, the better decisions you can make.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced family law attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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