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It may be a big lie, but it isn't quite fraud

An Illinois appellate panel has reversed and remanded a woman's petition to annul her marriage on the basis of fraud. While the case does not make new law, it is an interesting example of the subtleties of the state's marriage laws.

When a married couple wants to split up, they have two options: divorce or declaration of invalidity. (Since 1977, the state has used the term "declaration of invalidity of a marriage" in place of "annulment." So, legal documents generally use the former, but in common discourse the terms are interchangeable.) The difference is important. When the couple divorces, the marriage is terminated. With a declaration of invalidity, the marriage never took place.

The courts are reluctant to invalidate a marriage, so there are only a few situations that meet the criteria. For example, a new husband was too drunk to know what he was doing, or a woman's life was in danger. If a 17-year-old marries without the required consent of a parent, a guardian or the court, the marriage can be annulled. If two first cousins marry, the marriage is prohibited by law, and an annulment is appropriate.

In this case, the woman accused the husband of fraud. What she had to prove, though, was not just that her husband lied, but that the lie involved "the essentials of marriage." The essentials of marriage are not defined by law, because they differ from marriage to marriage. The court must look at what was important to that particular union.

The trial court agreed with the woman that her husband's failure to mention that he was already married when they exchanged vows constituted fraud involving an essential of marriage.

The appeals court did not, though, and we will explain why in our next post.

Source: Courthouse News, “Court Validates Bigamist Preacher's Marriage,” Jeff D. Gorman, Aug. 25, 2015

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