We all make rash decisions when it comes to love. So you may be wondering what your rights are after what is often referred to as a “Vegas” marriage. You may be surprised to learn that Colorado law permits a spouse, despite the lack of a technically valid marriage, to seek remedies typically reserved for divorce, including maintenance/alimony or equitable division of assets and debts.
A Colorado statute, C.R.S. § 14-10-111(1), sets forth the specific grounds for annulling a marriage. They include:
(a) Lack of capacity to consent, due to mental incapacity/infirmity, alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances;
(b) Lack of physical capacity to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse, and the other party did not know;
(c) A party was under the legal age to marry;
(d) Fraudulent representation by one party;
(f) One or both parties entered into the marriage as a jest or dare; and
(g) The marriage is prohibited by law, including in situations of bigamy or incest, or where the marriage was void under the law of the place where the marriage was contracted.
Thus, a “Vegas” marriage, if undertaken as a dare, or a marriage where one or both parties were intoxicated, would be within the permissible grounds for annulment described above. In practice, the most common grounds for annulment are those in which one party fraudulently induces the other party into a marriage, or in which one of the parties is already married and is thus committing bigamy by entering into the second marriage.
With respect to fraud, the Colorado Court of Appeals has determined that one spouse tricking the other spouse into marriage for the purpose of obtaining a green card constitutes “fraud” and therefore provides grounds for annulment. See, In re: Joel, 2012 COA 128. The Court in that case made clear that the party engaging in fraud may not receive the benefits of a traditional dissolution proceeding, and that equitable remedies otherwise available in such an action apply only to the victim spouse.
The other, more common ground for an annulment is bigamy. The classic bigamy situation is where one person “marries” another person who is already married, not knowing that person is already married. In such cases, courts may enter equitable orders, including maintenance, child support, and divisions of property, in order to protect the innocent party.
Notably, a person who discovers valid grounds for an annulment, but takes no action to dissolve the marriage, legitimizes the marriage. See, C.R.S. § 14-10-111 (2). For instance, a “Vegas” marriage entered into on a dare and/or due to intoxication becomes a legitimized marriage after six months. Similarly, the “unconsummatable” marriage becomes legitimized after one year, and the under-aged marriage after two years. In essence, if you learn that your marriage meets one of conditions for being declared “invalid” under Colorado law, it is important to act quickly.
Please contact the Domestic Team at Feldmann Nagel, LLC for all of your Family Law needs.