An annulment is a legal procedure in which a court rules that a marriage is legally invalid. Unlike a divorce, in which parties agree to legally end their marriage, an annulment treats that marriage as if it were invalid from the start. There are limited grounds on which an annulment can be granted, including when the marriage was obtained by fraud or physical force. A recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals shows that an annulment can itself be wielded as some sort of threat. It also shows that a person who uses an annulment to try to make life more difficult for his or her spouse is likely to have a hefty bill to pay.
Husband and Wife – a Chinese citizen – separated in June 2012, following roughly two years of marriage. Husband filed for an annulment soon thereafter, claiming that Wife had defrauded him in order to obtain citizenship in the U.S. He also notified federal immigration authorities about the litigation, according to the Court, in order to interfere with Wife’s petition for permanent residency in the U.S. The Court said he later told Wife that he would withdraw the annulment petition if she agreed to “walk away from the marriage with her car and nothing more.”
Husband repeatedly declined to dismiss the annulment petition, the Court recalled, and made various moves to stall the discovery process in the case. During the discovery process, parties to a lawsuit have the opportunity to seek information, documents, and other evidence from one another. Husband “failed to cooperate and engaged in actions preventing his deposition and precluding Wang from obtaining relevant information,” the Court said.
Husband agreed to withdraw the petition, however, after the trial judge ordered him to pay Wife more than $7,000 in sanctions for his behavior. The trial judge later hit Husband with another $22,500 sanctions bill after finding that Husband had no grounds for seeking the annulment in the first place and obstructed the case in order to increase Wife’s legal fees. The judge noted that the couple had an eight-year romantic relationship before they were married. She said that, even if Husband’s allegation that Wife had never loved him and used him for immigration purposes was true, it wasn’t a valid basis for granting an annulment. The judge also said there was no reasonable basis for reporting Wife to the immigration authorities.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion by imposing the sanctions. “The evidence was undisputed that the parties had a romantic relationship during the marriage, and therefore the annulment petition was frivolous on its face,” the Court observed. Although he was aware that the case had no merit and that his actions were increasing Wife’s litigation costs, the Court said Husband refused to withdraw the petition until the last minute. “Further, the evidence supported the court’s finding that [Husband] reported the annulment petition to the INS for the purpose of pressuring [Wife] to agree to an unfair settlement,” the Court said.
As a result, the Court affirmed the sanctions award.
Even in some of the most bitter and contentious divorce disputes, alternatives to traditional litigation like mediation and collaborative divorce can help spouses resolve their differences in a respectful and effective manner. With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches divorce cases as a problem to be solved collaboratively, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.
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