Saturday, March 7, 2009

Indiana Alternatives to Divorce: Annulment Meets Divorce

In Mason v. Mason (html format), the Indiana Court of Appeals dealt with a case where the husband claimed the trial court ought to have annulled the marriage. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the dissolution over the annulment.

I read the following as the important facts of the case:

On January 10, 2000, John filed for an annulment on grounds that his marriage to Bonnie was void under Indiana Code section 31-11-8-3, which prohibits marriage between first cousins unless such cousins are at least sixty-five years old on the date of the marriage. On March 23, 2000, Bonnie filed an Answer to John’s complaint and a Counterclaim, seeking dissolution of her marriage to John on the grounds that the marriage was irretrievably broken. On November 2, 2000, John was deposed, and the deposition was filed with the trial court on December 5, 2000. After several delays, a bench trial was set for January 11, 2002. John’s attorney, with court permission, withdrew his appearance on November 12, 2001. On January 11, 2002, Bonnie appeared with counsel, but John was absent. Bonnie’s counsel orally moved to dismiss John’s complaint for failure to prosecute. The trial court granted the motion because of John’s absence. The trial court found that the Masons’ marriage was valid under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, See footnote granted Bonnie’s request for dissolution, and awarded her all the marital property including the four life insurance policies. The trial court also awarded Bonnie attorney’s fees. John now appeals.
Because the annulment petition depended on the parties being first cousins, the annulment issued turned on the validity of the Tennessee marriage:
In this case, both parties admit to being first cousins. Appellant’s App. p. 5, 22. They also concede that they were married in Tennessee and that Tennessee allows first cousins to marry. Appellant’s App. p. 70, 181. Additionally, no statute such as Indiana Code section 31-11-1-1(b) See footnote exists to establish that a marriage such as John and Bonnie’s violates Indiana’s public policy. As a matter of comity, Indiana can choose to recognize Tennessee marriages between first cousins, even though such a marriage could not be validly contracted between residents of Indiana. Thus, the trial court committed no error in recognizing John and Bonnie’s marriage as valid.

Which in turn supported the trial judge's decision to dismiss the annulment petition. Thus, the wife's dissolution petition was heard and the trial court's decision to do so was upheld on appeal.

The opinion has only one other point that has anything to do with annulment:
In reviewing John’s claim, we first note that this court has held that if a marriage is void, then the trial court lacks jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees. Rance v. Rance, 587 N.E.2d 150, 153-54 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992). As stated above, however, John and Bonnie’s marriage is considered valid in Indiana. Thus, the trial court could properly consider Bonnie’s request for an award of attorney’s fees with regard to her counterclaim for dissolution....

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