Marriage Fraud In South Carolina: Can You Obtain An Annulment?
Obtaining an Annulment in the South Carolina Family Court means that you were never legally married. In appropriate cases this can be a crucial legal determination, so what is required?
South Carolina has enacted a statute setting forth the requirements a person must meet in order to annul their marriage as follows:
If any such contract has not been consummated by the cohabitation of the parties thereto the court may declare such contract void for want of consent of either of the contracting parties or for any other cause going to show that, at the time the supposed contract was made, it was not a contract. S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-530
Clearly the primary legal basis is lack of “consummation by the cohabitation”. But what does “or for any other cause going to show that …it was not a contract” mean? Marriage is a legal contract. Contracts can be voided when fraudulent information caused one of the parties to agree to the terms of the contract which later proved to be false. Proving marriage fraud in south carolina is no different.
For example, you are buying a used car and you are told the odometer is at 50,000 miles. You enter into a contract agreeing to terms based upon the car having 50,000 miles. Later you learn the car has 150,000 miles and the dealer knew this at the time you entered into the contract and concealed this information from you. This is fraud and you will likely be able to void the sales contact.
However marriage is not about buying a used car, as much as it may feel that way at times! The legal standard in Family Law is the same concept, but it may be more difficult to establish the facts showing that a party was induced to enter into a marriage based upon fraudulent information. The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled:
False representations regarding one’s character, social standing, or fortune do not constitute fraud sufficient to annul a marriage. Jakar v. Jakar, 113 S.C. 295, 102 S.E. 337 (1920). E.D.M. v. T.A.M., 307 S.C. 471, 474, 415 S.E.2d 812, 814 (1992)
But what about more intimate details such as love, affection, and companionship? Recently we have been retained a woman who who entered a marriage contract with a foreign citizen. Within days of the marriage, the new spouse began treating her much differently: no hugs, no kisses, no sex, rude and obnoxious behavior, verbal abuse and emotional distance.
South Carolina Law does not specifically address these kind of facts. These facts must be presented to the family court at a trial in a manner that is consistent with the principals of basic contract law: That there must be a mutual agreement based upon agreed upon terms.
It’s easy to say people marry because they are “in love”. But “love” is too ambiguous to prove from a legal perspective, and may not even be a valid reason to marry! “Love” is often confused in the early stages for passion and lust, but “loving” someone can be a different matter entirely. Our lust and our passion for a person may diminish over time, but a different set of facts come into play and can be proven by a person seeking to annul a marriage based upon fraud.
Generally mutual respect, kindness, support, and compassion will end when the “lust” ends, and the frustrated couple will act out against each other in antagonistic and self destructive ways because they are finding that their spouse “no longer makes them happy”. This is not fraud, it is simply two people who have unconsciously entered into a marriage, and now must get a divorce.
In order to prove a case of fraud in a divorce, an attorney must look to details that can be proven in court: has there been an end to respectful behavior, physical intimacy (not just sex), mutual support for family responsibilities, and have these things happened near the time of marriage? Would the recognition of South Carolina on the legal status of the marriage benefit only one person in the marriage, and this is the person who has withdrawn all support? These facts can be easy to prove and a competent lawyer should have a good chance to prevail at a hearing for an annulment.