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Several courts have held that the nondisclosure of a prior marriage and divorce does not qualify as an extreme enough fraud to annul a marriage. The nondisclosure of a prior marriage and divorce is not such a fraud, for it in no way impedes the carrying out of the marital obligations and does not go to the fundamentals of the relationship. The concealment of prior marriage is generally not fraud justifying annulment. However, at least one jurisdiction has held that a wife's concealment of five of her previous seven marriages on the application for a marriage license was sufficient fraud to serve as a basis to annul the marriage.
While Robert W. Leax, appellee-husband was on a cruise, Elaine Leax, appellant-wife filed for divorce, moved out of the house and withdrew a significant amount from their bank account. In her petition, the appellant alleged that the marriage had become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities between them and that appellee was guilty of cruel treatment toward her. The appellant asked for a disproportionate division of the property based on the alleged cruel treatment, her disability, her loss of the benefits of the marriage, and the appellant's superior earning capacity, education, and separate estate. Appellee denied the appellant’s allegation of cruelty. Appellant disclosed the existence of eight previous marriages. This prompted the appellee to file his "Second Amended Counterpetition for Annulment and Counterpetition for Divorce," asking for annulment on the basis of fraud and seeking a disproportionate share of the marital estate due to the appellant's fraud and fault in the break-up in the marriage, among other factors. Ultimately, the trial court annulled the marriage based on fraud and divided the parties' estate. Appellant challenged a decision of the District Court which annulled her marriage to appellee pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.107 (2006) and divided the parties' estate under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 7.001 (2006). The court affirmed on appeal.
1. Did the district court err in granting the annulment of marriage based on fraud?
2. Did the district court fail to divide the parties’ estate in a just and right manner?
The court affirmed.
1. The court ruled that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the trial court's annulment of the marriage based on fraud pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.107 (2006). The court further held that the extreme number of appellant's concealed previous marriages was sufficient to justify annulment based on the appellant's use of fraud to induce the appellee to enter into the marriage under section 6.107 of the Family Code.
2. The court ruled that to the extent that the trial court's disposition of the parties' estate did favor the appellee, the trial court acted within its discretion. Although the record does support the appellant’s argument that she has a lower potential for future earning than the appellee due to her disability, the trial court was also entitled to consider the appellant’s fraud at the time of her marriage to the appellee and her fault in ending the marriage. The court also held that the trial court could have considered the evidence that the appellant had a separate estate at the time that she separated from the appellee and the nature of the property that each party brought into this relatively short-lived marriage. Thus, the court then cannot conclude that the trial court acted arbitrarily or unreasonably and without reference to any guiding principles in dividing the estate. Therefore, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.