In a previous post, we discussed annulments and the circumstances under which they’re available to couples wishing to end their marriage. A recent decision by the California Court of Appeals is a good illustration of the limited availability of annulments in the state of California.
The case in question is In re the Marriage of Rebecca Kim and Ting Wang. In this case, the husband Ting Wang was a minister in the Korean Presbyterian Church. Rebecca Kim filed for divorce in 2012, after eight years of marriage. Wang instead requested a formal separation, asserting that the marriage was salvageable, and because he would no longer be able to work as a minister after a divorce. The dissolution was nevertheless granted. Wang responded by requesting that the divorce be vacated and resubmitted as an annulment, which the judge allowed. Wang argued that the marriage should be annulled based on Kim having fraudulently concealed the degree of her religious conviction. Wang enumerated the different types of ministerial work Kim had described doing before their marriage, including driving long distances to conduct a bible study, but said that after the marriage Kim “was not as fully committed to faith practice.” Around the time of the dissolution, Kim allegedly told Wang that it “should have been obvious that she was a mere ‘benchwarmer Christian,’ if a Christian at all,” when they were married. Kim agreed not to contest the request for an annulment. When the family court judge requested additional facts in support of his request for an annulment, the only additional fact Wang produced was that he was a Korean-American Presbyterian minister, and ministers in his church were not allowed to be divorced. The judge denied the requested annulment, as no California law supported annulment on the basis of fraud with respect to religious conviction.
Wang appealed this decision, but the Court of Appeals upheld the family court’s decision. The court’s opinion explained that California will only recognize fraud as a basis for annulling a marriage where the fraud is in regards “to the very essence of the marriage relation,” such as where a spouse lied about a sexual, child-rearing, or procreative facet of the marriage, and that this wouldn’t include religious belief. For example, the court described an annulment that was not permitted where a wife alleged that her husband had committed fraud by lying about his finances prior to marriage, but not about a sexual or procreative aspect of marriage. However, an annulment was permitted where a Catholic woman had agreed to marry a foreign national man in a civil ceremony, with the understanding that the couple would later marry in a Catholic church. In that case, after the civil ceremony occurred, the man rarely visited his wife, took no steps to arrange for a religious ceremony, and the couple never lived together nor consummated the marriage, making it appear that the man married the woman only to obtain citizenship. The court noted that, in that case, the lie about religious conviction could be seen as a vital one relating to whether the couple’s children would be raised in the church. The court also pointed out that an unconsummated marriage is easier to annul than one where the couple lived together as spouses, as it appeared that the husband lied about actually having romantic affection for his wife, rather than just his religious conviction.
In the case of Wang’s marriage to Kim, there was neither evidence that Kim lied about her religiosity in order to get Wang to marry her, nor evidence that Kim and Wang were unable to act as a married couple due to Kim’s lack of religious conviction. It seemed to the court that Wang sought the annulment merely because a divorce would imperil his job, rather than because Kim’s weak religious conviction meant the marriage was based on a lie. For those reasons, the court found that any fraud regarding religious conviction was an insufficient reason to annul the marriage, and the dissolution was reinstated.
If you are in need of a knowledgeable and compassionate San Diego divorce attorney to assist you in seeking an annulment or divorce, contact the Law Offices of Andy Cook for a consultation on your case, at 619-515-9900.