For centuries wedding vows have contained the term “for richer, for poorer”. For most people those terms refer to the couples’ future financial fortunes. That was not the interpretation a husband recently tried to apply to his vows when he found out that his wife’s wealth was significantly less than he had believed.
He made an application to the Family Court to have the marriage annulled. The couple separated five months after they were married. The husband believed that at the time of the marriage the wife owned a property worth $200,000. He claims he later found out that the property was really only worth $140,000 and had a mortgage outstanding of $120,000.
Under Australian family law, a marriage can be declared invalid if it was achieved by fraud or duress. Justice Barry, of the Family Court of Australia, in hearing the case said that the fraud needed to relate to the nature of the ceremony, not “the attaining of consent to marriage by various representations or inducements”. He referred to an English judgment from 1897 where a man sought an annulment because his partner failed to tell him she was pregnant before they married.
In that case the judge ruled “when there is consent, no fraud inducing that consent is material” Justice Barry also sited even an earlier case from 1888 in which the judge said “the most deliberate plot, leading to a marriage where most unseemly in all disproportions of rank, of fortune, of habits of life.. would enable this Court to release [the husband] from claims which, though forged by others, he had liberated on himself. If he is capable of consent and has consent, the law does not ask how the consent was induced.”
Australian Courts are found that a marriage is void if the purported consent was given to something other than a marriage, or there is an issue as to the identity of the person being married.
In another case in the Family Court in 1989, the Court found that if a party knew who they were marrying and wanted to go through with it, then it did not matter that consent “is induced by promises of internal happiness, luxurious living or even the promise to live together forever after”. In making that decision Justice Nygh asked where the Court should draw the line with issues of prenuptial deception, saying asking whether lack of love would be the basis for annulment.
In the most recent application Justice Barry found that there were no grounds to annul the man’s marriage as a result of his mistake in belief as to his wife’s financial position.