PR 06310.001 Alabama
A. PR 03-078 Void or Voidable Marriage Determination - State of Alabama Dewayne B~, SSN ~
DATE: January 6, 2003
An Alabama decree of annulment stating that a purported marriage is void ab initio because of fraud on the part of one of the parties is consistent with Alabama case law.
You have requested an opinion on whether the annulment of a marriage in Alabama would result in the reinstatement of benefits in the following situation. Amy N. B~ was receiving child's insurance benefits on the record of her disabled father, Dewayne B~. Her benefit entitlement ceased when she married Juan C. L~ on January 30, 2001. In August 2002, Amy filed a Complaint for Annulment in the Circuit Court of Winston County, Alabama. The complaint had the following statement:
“The said marriage ceremony was a nullity because the Defendant committed fraud in inducing the Plaintiff to enter into the marriage in that the Defendant used a fictitious name. The Plaintiff is uncertain as to the actual identity of the Defendant. Through the course of their marriage, the Plaintiff has learned of at least two names and social security numbers that the Defendant is known by.”
The court granted Amy a Decree of Annulment on August 14, 2002 stating that “the purported marriage of the Plaintiff and the Defendant is void ab initio and held for naught.”
There are no Alabama statutes that enumerate the grounds for an annulment or that provide for a divorce for fraud based on a mistaken identity. We also note that the court's order cited no statutory authority as a legal basis for the annulment of the marriage. However, in Holcombe v. Whitaker, 318 So.2d 289 (Ala. 1975), the Alabama Supreme Court held that when one wrongfully induces another into a marriage, by misrepresenting or concealing facts that render the marriage void, the person deceived is entitled to an action for damages. The Holcombe case involved concealment of a prior existing marriage and the Court further stated that:
“While this is the first case to come before this court seeking damages for fraudulently inducing one into an illegal or void marriage, we have long recognized, as actionable, misrepresentations made with intent to deceive, relied on by and resulting in damages to the injured party. Thus, we have no hesitancy in joining a number of states in expressly holding that when one wrongfully induces another into a marriage, by misrepresenting or concealing facts which render the marriage void, the person so deceived is entitled to an action for damages.”
Holcombe at 318 So. 2d 292.
The court's decision provides a basis for our concluding that an annulment is available under Alabama law, specifically where there is a misrepresentation of something that is material to the marital contract.
Another Alabama court decision expressly noted that annulment is the proper remedy for the dissolution of a void marriage and that a trial court may properly annul a marriage on the ground that the marriage was void from the outset. The court also stated that the major difference between a “void marriage” and a “voidable marriage” is that latter is treated as binding until its nullity is ascertained and declared by competent court, whereas former does not require such judgment because parties could not enter into valid marital relationship. See Broadus v. Broadus, 361 So. 2d 582 (Ala. 1978).
The Circuit Court of Winston County, Alabama reviewed Amy's complaint and the accompanying evidence alleging fraud and determined that she was entitled to an annulment. It is our opinion that this order is consistent with the case law cited above. The order declared Amy's marriage void ab initio meaning that legally, it never happened. Therefore, it is our opinion that Amy N. B~ is entitled to a reinstatement of her child's insurance benefits back to the point at which SSA stopped payments because her marriage to Juan C. L~ was void. Respectfully,
Mary Ann S~
Sharon F. Y~
Assistant Regional Counsel