Is Divorce the Only Solution to a Marriage Based on Deception?

In the Georgia courts, while a divorce serves to sever the bonds of marriage between two people, an annulment involves declaring the marriage itself invalid and restoring both parties to their former, single status. There are several issues that could be present in a marriage that may result in it being declared void or voidable in annulment proceedings.

Annulments Come in Two Forms

Annulments come in two forms — void or voidable. A void annulment requires the party seeking an annulment to provide only a limited amount of proof to receive an annulment, since the marriage is patently invalid. A common type of void annulment results when one of the parties was already married at the time of a subsequent marriage. That second marriage is invalid on its face since, under the law, a person can only be married to one person at a time. Therefore the court must void the second marriage.

The other type of annulment is a voidable annulment, meaning the court may void the marriage. A voidable annulment requires a higher level of proof. It demands that the party seeking the annulment prove that they were in some way deceived and that the deception led to the marriage. An annulment based on fraud is one of the most common types of voidable annulments.

Annulment Based on Fraud

An annulment based on fraud typically involves some level of deceit or misrepresentation on the part of one of the spouses, with the goal of getting the other to agree to the marriage. As experienced Georgia family law attorneys , we provide legal guidance on how to prove fraud for marriage annulment purposes. This generally involves investigating the circumstances surrounding the marriage and gathering evidence to prove the exact type of fraud perpetrated.

The Georgia Bar advises that fraud involves using trickery, such as intentionally misleading, lying to, or deceiving your partner, for the purpose of convincing him or her to enter the marriage. Examples of situations in which annulment based on fraud may be an option include:

  • Untrue claims that one of the partners is sick or dying, while presenting the idea of marriage as fulfilling a particular need or a final request;
  • False pregnancy claims used to coerce the alleged father to marry the mother;
  • Offering financial incentives, which never materialize or are based on lies, for the purpose of luring the other partner into the marriage;
  • Deceitfully claiming that marriage is required in order to remain in the country, claim rights to an estate, or fulfill some other type of legal obligation.

Proving Fraud

To prove fraud for marriage annulment, testimony from witnesses and letters, emails, or other correspondence may be used as evidence in your case. If you are seeking an annulment based on fraud, you can take the stand and testify that you were deceived and that the deception caused you to marry your spouse. However, your spouse could take the stand to deny your claims, and the trial would dissolve into a he-said, she-said situation. Therefore, better proof would be some sort of written communication from your spouse that details their deception. At the very least, testimony of a third party with direct knowledge of the fraud could help overcome a he-said, she-said situation

What Can I Recover if My Marriage was Based on Fraud?

The purpose of an annulment is to return the parties to their original state prior to marriage. It is as if the marriage had never happened. However, property might have been acquired before the marriage can be annulled. The Georgia Supreme Court has held that “a court of equity hearing an action for annulment undoubtedly determines the rights of the parties in jointly held property and could partition it.” Jones v. Jones, 200 Ga. 571 (37 S.E.2d 711) (1946). That means that if a couple acquires property during a marriage that was later annulled, the court has the power to determine who receives that property. The court can even determine if one party is to pay a debt that was acquired by the deceived party prior to an annulment.

Additionally, in an action for annulment, the innocent spouse can seek an award of attorney’s fees from the spouse who fraudulently misled them into marriage, as long as the innocent party acted in good faith. See McKinney v. McKinney, 242 Ga. 607 (1978). Therefore, it is wise to request an award of attorney’s fees from the other party if you are seeking to have your marriage annulled based on fraud.

A lawsuit for annulment does not allow a party to seek general damages for fraud, punitive damages, and/or compensatory damages. However, under certain circumstances, someone can bring a separate civil action against a party for such damages. “A cause of action for fraud based on misrepresentation about marital status is recognized in Georgia,” according to Georgia Statutes. “Fraud will lie where (1) a person misrepresents his or her marital status, (2) such person promises to marry the other party, and (3) the other party reasonably relies on the misrepresentation to his or her detriment. But where there is no such misrepresentation of marital status, an action for fraud would not lie.” Finch v. Dasgupta, 251 Ga. App. 637(2)(b), 555 S.E.2d 22 (2001).

Again, this would be a separate lawsuit for “fraud” filed in addition to the annulment. As with any lawsuit, the aggrieved party must prove that they suffered damages and be able to document and quantify them.

Practical Advice

As stated above, if you seek an annulment based on fraud, a written document from your spouse detailing their deception is some of the best proof of fraud you can have. Written evidence can come in many forms. It does not have to be a signed and notarized document, although that would be excellent proof. Text messages, love letters, and emails can all serve as written documents. So, if you seek an annulment, it would be best to search your phone and email for any such correspondence sent by your spouse prior to marriage.

In a situation in which your spouse induced you to marry them by saying they had a terminal disease, you can seek, through the court, to have a medical professional examine your spouse. Such a medical professional may be able to testify as to whether or not certain medical issues ever existed in your spouse. However, obtaining a court order to have your spouse medically examined can be difficult because of HIPAA laws. However, an experienced attorney can file the proper paperwork with the court to increase the likelihood that the court will order the examination.

To help you understand the information provided above, below are two scenarios describing potential fraud-based annulments:

  1. A man wants a woman to marry him. She is not sure whether she wants to marry him. He tells her that he is incredibly wealthy and, if they marry, he will share his massive wealth with her. She marries him but later discovers that he lives in poverty. She files for annulment based on fraud. She testifies about his deception and also uses his love letters and texts as proof of his promises to enrich her.
  2. A woman wants to marry a man. He cares for her but does not want to marry her. She states to him that she has a terminal illness. This convinces him to marry her as a last request. After the marriage, she is in good health. He files for annulment based on fraud, using her correspondence as proof of her claims of illness. After getting a superior court judge to order a medical examination of her, he has a medical expert testify that she was never ill.

If you are considering seeking an annulment based on fraud, please contact the attorneys of Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor. Our family law attorneys have the experience to explain what will be required to obtain a fraud-based annulment and advise you on how to convince a judge that you are entitled to an annulment under the law. With several offices around the Atlanta area, there is a convenient location to meet your needs. Contact us today to schedule your consultation!