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

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.

San 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 fiancĂ©e 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.

The couple eventually reconciled, but argued once Campeanu and her children from a previous relationship moved to California. Snowden testified that the couple did not have sex after the marriage and that Campeanu insisted that they move to North Carolina – where a Romanian friend was living – shortly after she obtained a green card.

Campeanu, on the other hand, claimed that she asked for a divorce while she was awaiting a visa in Romania after realizing that Snowden was still actively using dating sites and had recently traveled to the Philippines. She testified that she also told Snowden about her fertility problems before the couple was married. After the couple reconciled and she moved with her children to California, Campeanu said she and Snowden fought about how she was raising the kids. Although the couple was having sexual relations during this time, Campeanu also said that she found that Snowden was still actively using dating web sites. She left with the kids for North Carolina after another fight.

As a result, the court found conflicting evidence with respect to each of the bases for Snowden’s fraud claims. While Snowden claimed he was unaware of Campeanu’s fertility problems, the court said Campeanu referenced a fertility test in an email to Snowden and that he acknowledged that her age could be a problem in having children.

Further, according to the court, Campeanu showed that she had intended to make a life with Snowden in California by obtaining the fertility test before the marriage and inspecting his email activity and web browsing history “to find out just what kind of man he was.” Finally, she gave Snowden the option to divorce during the weeks after the marriage in which he was non-responsive.

“One could reasonably infer from the foregoing that Campeanu had intended to be a real wife to Snowden,” the court ruled. “The rapidity with which the marriage deteriorated after Campeanu received her green card does not compel a contrary conclusion.”

While the facts of this particular case may be unusual, the court’s ruling is a good example of the rather high bar that must be crossed in order to obtain an annulment based on fraud or other grounds. I recently assisted a young woman annul her very brief marriage of two months under somewhat similar circumstances. A person considering divorce or annulment is well-advised to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney to navigate the legal system and consider alternatives to protracted litigation. With offices throughout the region, Bay Area divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes.

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