When Online Dating Leads to Marriage, Annulment – In re Marriage of Banhagel

Annulment is an alternative to divorce in which a court concludes that the marriage is legally invalid. In some cases, courts will grant annulment when the person seeking it has been entered into the marriage under false pretenses. California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently considered such a case, stemming from an internet dating experience gone wrong.

rings-1185863-m.jpgHusband and Wife met on an online dating site in May 2008. Husband was living in California at the time, while Wife was living in Russia with her nine-year-old daughter from a prior marriage. The couple communicated through a translation program because Wife spoke little English and Husband didn’t speak any Russian. Husband traveled to Russia to visit Wife in August 2008. The couple decided to marry soon thereafter.

The trouble started a few weeks before the wedding, according to the Court, when Husband noticed some gaps in his communications with Wife. Although she didn’t respond to emails and phone calls during this time, Husband observed that Wife continued to be active on the dating site. He questioned her motives, but Wife assured Husband that she was marrying him for “nothing other than love and devotion,” the Court explained. They married in June 2009 and Wife came to live in California nearly a year later. The relationship broke down almost immediately. Husband claimed that Wife wouldn’t have sex with him and was frivolous with the couple’s money. Wife argued that Husband’s practice of allowing cats in the bed put a damper on their sex life.

Husband sought to annul the marriage in November 2010. A family court awarded the annulment, finding that Wife entered into the marriage with no intention of performing her marital duties. After a mix-up concerning a number of declarations that Wife had submitted from friends and family members in Russia, the court reopened the record and scheduled trial in order to give Wife an opportunity to explain some inconsistencies between the declarations and her own testimony.

The family court later rejected Wife’s request to delay the trial until separate immigration proceedings against her were resolved. The court also said it had expected Wife to present some of the people whose declarations she submitted for live testimony. The family court ultimately determined that it could reach the same ruling without considering the declarations. Wife’s version of the situation wasn’t credible, according to the court, since she had greatly contradicted herself throughout her own testimony. Wife declined an opportunity to clear up these inconsistencies by invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination at trial.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District found that the trial judge’s decision not to continue the trial after Wife invoked the Fifth Amendment didn’t amount to an unconstitutional denial of due process. Instead, the Court said Wife had been given the opportunity to present witness testimony to clear up any inconsistencies in the declarations and her own testimony. “Assuming, without deciding, that [Wife] properly invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege, we cannot conclude that the trial court’s failure to continue the trial amounted to a denial of due process because [Wife] was not denied the right to present evidence,” the Court said. “She could have presented the declarants or other witnesses at the hearing.”

If you are considering seeking an annulment or divorce in California, it’s important to have experienced legal counsel to help you consider your rights and obligations. I recently assisted a young woman in annulling her very brief marriage of two months under somewhat similar circumstances. With offices throughout the region, my Bay Area divorce law firm provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes.

Related blog posts:

California court Refuses to Annul Internet Couple’s Marriage on Fraud Grounds – In re Marriage of Snowden

Earning Capacity and Immigration Status in California Child Support Calculations – In re Marriage of Parker

Happy Outcomes in California Mediated Divorce

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