What Constitutes Fraud Sufficient to Obtain an Annulment in Georgia?
There are six grounds that a couple or an individual may assert in order to receive an annulment in Georgia. The grounds for annulment in Georgia include: 1) intermarriage between the parties, such intermarriage between a father and daughter; 2) one of the parties is under 16 years of age; 3) one of the parties did not have sufficient mental capacity at the time of the marriage; 4) one of the parties was committing bigamy, meaning one spouse was married to someone else at the time of the marriage; 5) force, menace, or duress was used in obtaining the marriage; and 6) fraud. See generally O.C.G.A. §19-3-3; 19-3-4; 19-3-5. In Georgia, it is most common for annulments to be based on the latter two grounds. Although it may be simple to conceive of an instance of force, menace or duress that should result in an annulment, for instance if one party intimidates the other party into marriage with a threat of death or physical bodily harm, it is more difficult to imagine what type of fraudulent behavior would result in the annulment of a marriage.
According to the Official Code of Georgia:
a) Marriages of persons unable to contract, unwilling to contract, or fraudulently induced to contract shall be void. However, the issue of such a marriage born before the marriage is annulled and declared void by a competent court shall be legitimate.
(b) In the case of persons unwilling to contract or fraudulently induced to do so, a subsequent consent and ratification of the marriage, freely and voluntarily made, accompanied by cohabitation as husband and wife shall render the marriage valid...
O.C.G.A. 19-3-5. “To constitute an actual contract of marriage, the parties must consent thereto voluntarily without any fraud practiced upon either. Drunkenness at the time of marriage, brought about by art or contrivance to induce consent shall be held as fraud.” O.C.G.A. 19-3-4. Additionally, “all contracts or bonds made to hinder or to force marriage are deemed fraudulent and void.” O.C.G.A. 19-3-7.
The statutory law outlined above suggests that marriages entered into as a result of a contract forcing the parties to marry or as a result of one party’s drunkenness are invalid and subject to annulment. See also Baxter v. Rogers, 195 Ga. 274 (1943). Additionally, Georgia case law suggests that if a husband is induced to marry after being told by his wife that she was pregnant with his child, when in fact the child is not his, this may be sufficient for annulment based on fraud. See Reynolds v. Reynolds, 153 Ga. 490 (1922). Annulments based on the ground of fraud or fraudulent inducement may be granted on other fact patterns as well. In order to learn if an annulment is the best option for your situation, please contact one of our family law professionals.
By A. Latrese Martin, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC