PR 06315.028 Missouri

A. PR 02-106 Effect of Annulment When Marriage Procured By Fraud Frank D~, ~

DATE: June 13, 2002

1. SYLLABUS

The issue is whether a marriage procured by fraud and later annulled by the court is considered void or voidable under Missouri law. The wife filed for divorce, and the husband (entitled to benefits as a disabled adult child) filed a cross-petition requesting annulment because either he lacked the capacity to enter into a marriage contract, or because the marriage was procured by the wife's fraud. A marriage procured by fraud would generally result in a voidable marriage under Missouri law. One's capacity to enter into a marriage contract is governed by the condition of his/her mind at the time of the marriage, i.e., whether the person was able to understand the marriage contract and its consequences. Based on medical records in this case, there is no indication that at the time of the marriage, the husband lacked the capacity to have such an understanding. Moreover, the court apparently found no capacity defects because the order annulled the marriage due to the wife's fraud. Therefore, the marriage is voidable under Missouri law.

2. OPINION

You have asked whether a marriage procured by fraud and later annulled by the court is considered void or voidable under Missouri law. The answer depends on the severity of Mr. D~'s mental condition. Based upon the information provided, we believe it is reasonable to conclude that, under Missouri law, the marriage is considered voidable.

Frank and Bonnie D~, both residents of Missouri, were married in August 1999. Bonnie filed for divorce in October 1999. Frank filed a cross petition requesting annulment because he either lacked the capacity to enter into a marriage contract or because the marriage was procured by Bonnie's fraud. The court entered its order on October 31, 2001, annulling the marriage because it was procured by Bonnie's fraud. After consultation with our Regional Office, we learned that Mr. D~ was receiving disabled adult child's benefits based on a finding of mental retardation. He became entitled to benefits in August 1995, based on an onset date of May 31, 1991. Mr. D~'s date of birth is June 22, 1969.

Generally, the court's finding that the marriage was procured by fraud would result in a voidable marriage. In Missouri, there is a strong public policy favoring the validity of marriage. As a result, marriages are deemed void in very limited circumstances. Missouri statues provide that a marriage is only invalid from the beginning, i.e. void, because the parties lacked the capacity to contract, because they were related in a prohibited manner, or in cases of bigamous marriages. See Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 451.020 and 451.030; see also Everetts v. Apfel, 214 F.3d 990, 992 (8th Cir. 2000). There is no statutory definition of a voidable marriage. Rather, case law provides that a voidable marriage results from fraud, error, duress, or other imperfect consent. See Glass v. Glass, 546 S.W.2d 738, 740 (Mo. App. 1977). A voidable marriage is valid until set aside by a decree of annulment. See Everetts, 214 F.3d at 992. In the case at issue, the court annulled Mr. D~'s marriage as of October 31, 2001 based upon his ex-wife's fraud. Thus, at first blush, their marriage was voidable and considered valid until the date of the court order.

However, in this case, Mr. D~ was receiving disabled adult child's benefits due to mental retardation. Because marriages are considered civil contracts, the consent of the parties is considered essential. See Mo. Ann. Stat. § 451.010 (2002). Case law in Missouri provides some guidance in determining whether mental retardation prohibits one's ability to understand and thus, give proper consent to enter into the marriage contract. One's capacity to enter into a marriage contract is governed by the condition of their mind at the time of the marriage. See Westermayer v. Westermayer, 267 S.W. 24 (Mo. Ct. App 1924). In Westermayer, the court concluded that "mere weakness of intellect is not deemed sufficient to invalidate [a] marriage, if the party [was] capable of comprehending and understanding the subject of the contract, its nature, and probable consequence" Id at 26. More recent case law states that it is possible for one to understand that he is being married and to understand the effects and consequences of the marriage relationship while not being able to wisely manage his property or business affairs. See Sheffield v. Andrews, 440 S.W.2d 175 (Mo. App. 1969). Thus, the answer to whether Mr. D~'s marriage was void or voidable rests with the degree of his mental retardation and its effect on his ability to understand the marriage contract and its consequences.

Evidence contained in Mr. D~'s file indicates several mental health related hospitalizations. In June 1991, treatment notes indicate admission for suicidal ideations. There is an indication of three p