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Women fail to undo their sister's deathbed "I do" (part 2)

We are continuing our discussion of a recent family law case that involved three sisters, a secret wedding and a petition for annulment. Illinois law uses the term "invalidate" instead of "annul," and it really does make more sense. Invalidation wipes the marriage off the books; it's as if the marriage never happened. The parties end up with whatever they brought into the marriage, and in this way invalidity is significantly different from divorce: The divorce process will divide the couple's assets and debts and determine the future care of the children, including custody, support and visitation.

In this case, we have been referring to the sisters as Janet, Amy and Mary. When Janet died following a long battle with cancer, her sisters discovered that she had secretly wed two weeks before she died. Janet and Tim married in the hospital; a minister officiated, and a nurse and another man were witnesses. Amy and Mary petitioned the court to annul the marriage as soon as they found out, though court documents shed no light on the cause of the animosity between Tim and the surviving sisters.

In most states a marriage can be annulled or invalidated only under certain circumstances. Lack of capacity is one such circumstance. If one party was mentally incapable of consenting, or too ill to consent, an annulment would be appropriate. Being drunk or drugged can also render someone incapable of consent, as can fraud or duress. Someone who has been tricked into marriage can have the marriage invalidated.

The lower court denied the petition. The appeals court did the same. The courts made two arguments against the annulment.

And we'll go into those in our next post.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "In-Laws Can't Annul Deathbed Wedding," Jeff D. Gorman, April 27, 2012

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