Articles Posted in Annulment

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.

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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.

us-passport-1239581Husband 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.

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In California, a court can annul a marriage that it determines is not legally valid based on a number of reasons, including a finding that one spouse is already married, not mentally capable of entering marriage or has committed fraud in inducing the other spouse to marry. Once a marriage is annulled, the law operates as though it never existed. In In re Marriage of Snowden, the Sixth District Court of Appeals explains that annulments don’t often come easy, even for the shortest of marriages.

1260785_laptop_work.jpgSan Jose resident Norris Snowden and Simona Campeanu, a Romanian citizen, struck up a relationship online in 2006 and married three years later. Campeanu moved to the U.S. to live with her husband permanently in 2010, after obtaining a visa. The couple lived together for less than two months before separating.

Snowden later filed a petition seeking to annul the marriage, citing fraud. “Snowden maintained that Campeanu’ s true motive for marrying him was to obtain a green card, allowing her to reside in the United States,” according to the court. He also alleged that she refused to have sex with him and did not tell Snowden prior to the marriage that she is unable to have children. Denying these allegations, Campeanu sought a dissolution of marriage, rather than annulment. A trial court found that Snowden failed to prove fraud and denied his petition.

The Sixth District affirmed the decision on appeal. “Historically, annulments based on fraud have only been granted in cases where the fraud relates in some way to the sexual, procreative or child-rearing aspects of marriage,” the court explained. For example, annulments have been granted where one spouse did not intend from the beginning of the marriage not to engage in sexual relations with the other spouse or where a spouse was pregnant with another man’s child at the time of the marriage. Even in cases of potential immigration fraud, the court said, an annulment will not be granted unless the offending spouse never intended to carry out his or her “essential duties.”

Here, Snowden acknowledged in testimony that he continued to engage in “flirtatious emails” with other women after becoming engaged to Campeanu, who became angry when she learned of the emails shortly before the couple was married. They decided to marry anyway. Campeanu returned to Romania after her fiancée visa expired and Snowden did not respond to her persistent emails for several weeks, later explaining that he was angry that she had looked at his private emails.

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