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 previous admissions for suicide ideations and depression. Upon discharge, Mr. D~ was diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid type, unspecified and antisocial personality disorder. His discharge summary stated that he was legally "competent." In September 1991, Mr. D~ was admitted for treatment due to cocaine abuse. His discharge diagnosis was cocaine dependence and organic hallucinosis, and he was again categorized as legally "competent."

Treatment notes from November 1999, indicate that Mr. D~ was admitted following a suicide attempt. A drug screen was positive for cocaine. Upon admission it was noted that he had poor insight and judgment. Also contained in the treatment notes is a notation that Mr. D~ was married, but separated after only a few weeks. There was no indication that Mr. D~ was unable to understand the consequences of entering into a marriage contract. However, Mr. D~'s grandmother stated that he was "depressed about his life situation." Mr. D~ also reported being upset due to a lack of income, separation from his wife, and having his car towed. His discharge diagnosis was schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.

Mr. D~'s record further indicates an examination in February 2001, during which a consultative examiner found marked limitations with Mr. D~'s knowledge of common social and behavioral expectations and ability to employ good common sense judgment in social situations. The examiner further opined that Mr. D~'s had "significant" limitations with his ability to comprehend sequential cause-and-effect relationships. Mr. D~ was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, depressive type and mild mental retardation. It was suggested that he not be allowed to manage his own benefits, if awarded.

Given the dates of the medical evidence in the record, the most relevant information is contained in the November 1999 treatment notes because they are the nearest in time to Mr. D~'s date of marriage, August 1999. There is no indication that, in August 1999, Mr. D~ lacked the capacity to enter into the marriage contract or understand the nature and probable consequences of entering into the marriage contract. He was not receiving documented treatment and there is no evidence of drug abuse at the time of his marriage. In addition, the November 1999 notes indicate that Mr. D~ was upset over his life situation including the separation from his wife and his lack of income. Moreover, Mr. D~ alleged in his cross petition for annulment either a lack of capacity or, in the alternative, fraud. The court apparently found no capacity defects because an order was entered annulling the marriage due to Mrs. D~'s fraud. Thus, we believe the marriage is voidable under Missouri law.

Frank V. S~ III
Chief Counsel, Region VII

By
Pamela J. M~
Assistant Regional Counsel


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PR 06315.028 - Missouri - 09/09/2008
Batch run: 01/27/2009
Rev:09/09/2008