Law School Case Brief
Blair v. Blair - 147 S.W.3d 882 (Mo. Ct. App. 2004)
In order to establish fraud as grounds for an annulment, the spouse seeking the annulment is required to plead and prove the following elements: (1) a representation by the other spouse; (2) its falsity; (3) its materiality; (4) the other spouse's knowledge of its falsity or ignorance of its truth; (5) the other spouse's intent that the representation be acted upon by the spouse seeking the annulment; (6) the spouse's ignorance of the falsity of the representation; (7) the spouse's reliance on the truth of the representation; (8) the spouse's right to rely on the representation; and (9) that the spouse sustained consequent and proximate injury. Moreover, public policy demands that integrity of the marriage contract be preserved so far as possible, and fraud necessary to avoid a marriage must be such as is deemed vital to the marriage relationship.
In July 1976, William Jerry Blair and Nancy Blair had sexual intercourse on one occasion after having worked together for a couple of years. At that time, Nancy was married to a certain Jim Farra, and was also involved in a long-standing sexual relationship with Sam Kelly. Subsequently, Nancy gave birth to a son, Devin, on April 26, 1977. In January 1979, Nancy contacted William Blair, and told him that he was Devin’s father. William met with Nancy and Devin; thereafter, he resumed a sexual relationship with Nancy. In March 1979, Nancy separated from Jim Farra and filed a petition for dissolution of that marriage. Subsequently, Nancy became pregnant with William’s child, and on March 13, 1980, Nancy gave birth to their daughter, Oralin. Nancy’s marriage to Jim Farra was dissolved, and several days after, Nancy and William got married. William later adopted both Devin and Oralin. Over 21 years later, Nancy filed a petition for dissolution of her marriage to William Blair. In his answer, William averred that Nancy fraudulently represented to him before their marriage that he was Devin’s father, and had thereby induced him to marry her. Subsequent testing proved that he was not Devin’s father. The trial court denied William’s request for an annulment. William challenged the trial court’s judgment.
Did a husband sufficiently establish fraud as a ground for annulment of a marriage?
The Missouri appellate court noted that the overall gist of William’s testimony appeared to have been that he would never have seen Nancy again after their one-night-stand if it had not been for her calling and telling him that he had a child and that the marriage was, therefore, the result of that representation. According to the Court, such testimony did not establish that William relied upon the representations regarding the son's paternity in deciding whether to marry Nancy, only that it played a part in his decision to continue a relationship with her. Sufficient evidence supported the trial court's determination that William would have married Nancy regardless of the representation as to the son's paternity. William admitted that, during their two-year courtship, he fell in love with the wife. Prior to the marriage, the couple had a daughter. Further, both parties admitted that William had questions about the son's paternity prior to the marriage, but that he married her anyway, and that he subsequently adopted both children. As such, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
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