Texas Court Grants Divorce and Denies Annulment

iStock-1270267953Marriages in Texas are generally presumed to be valid. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101.  In some cases, however, a party may seek to have a marriage determined to be invalid by pursuing an annulment.  When a person petitions for annulment, they are taking the position that the marriage was not valid and should be declared void.  One reason a party may seek an annulment is if they were induced to enter the marriage through fraud, duress, or force by the other party. A party may only be granted an annulment on these grounds if they did not voluntarily live with the other party after finding out about the fraud or no longer being under duress or force. Tex. Fam. Code § 6.107. A divorce suit, however, presumes the marriage was valid, but asks that it be dissolved.

Trial Court Grants Divorce instead of Annulment

A former husband recently appealed his divorce, arguing that the court should have granted his petition for annulment instead of the wife’s counter-petition for divorce.  They were both Chinese nationals living in different cities in Texas and got married days before the husband’s last interview for his green card. The wife was attending university in Odessa on a non-immigrant student visa at the time. Before the marriage, they agreed they would live apart until the wife graduated, but that the wife would move into off-campus housing so the husband could visit her. They also agreed she would move to San Antonio, where the husband lived, after graduation. She instead ultimately rented a room in Odessa.

The wife got a green card in 2016 based on her marriage.  The husband became concerned she married him to speed up her immigration.  He petitioned for annulment on the grounds of fraud in July 2017.   The wife subsequently counter-petitioned for divorce.

After a bench trial, the court denied the petition for annulment and granted the divorce, finding the wife at fault.  The decree enjoined both parties from “contacting any entity whatsoever” about the divorce, including certain government agencies and each other’s employer and coworkers.  It also enjoined them  from discussing the case or each other on social media.

Husband Appeals Divorce

The husband appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in granting a divorce rather than annulment.  He claimed the wife wanted to marry before his last interview to help with her own immigration process, but she testified they timed the wedding based on when she received her notarized birth certificate.  She admitted she got her green card based on the marriage, but also pointed out she did not know if or when the husband’s green card application would be approved when they got married. She testified she was eligible to apply through other immigration programs, but the husband chose one based on their marriage and prepared the paperwork – not her.

The husband testified she intentionally avoided him, refused to give him her address, and only visited when she was coming to San Antonio for reasons related to her immigration.  The wife testified her address was on their joint bank accounts.  She said she came to San Antonio multiple times unrelated to her immigration. She also testified she remained in Odessa for multiple reasons, including a job that paid more than the husband’s and that had the possibility of a transfer to San Antonio in the future. The husband did not visit her often because he had “agreed not to disturb” her elderly landlady.  She also testified that he told her he would move after his daughter finished high school.

Both parties offered evidence of emails and texts from the husband after he filed for annulment stating he loved her and wanted to reconcile.  The husband said he had sent the messages to get evidence to use in the annulment proceeding.  The wife testified, however, that she really thought the husband wanted to reconcile.  She said she loved the husband and initially thought they were compatible, but did not feel there was trust in her marriage.

Appeals Court Upholds Divorce

The appeals court found there was conflicting evidence and the trial court could have reasonably found the wife did not fraudulently induce the husband to marry her.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the court’s granting divorce instead of an annulment.

The husband also challenged the permanent injunction.  The wife argued the injunction was appropriate because the husband intended to report her to federal agencies and the injunction kept him from taking action that would result in her deportation.

To obtain a permanent injunction, a party must show they would be imminently and irreparably injured by a wrongful act and that there is no adequate remedy at law. The permanent injunction must be supported by the pleadings and evidence, and the pleadings must be specific in the relief sought.  The wife’s pleadings did not seek a permanent injunction or allege or imply the husband had engaged in wrongful acts that would entitle her to an injunction. She did testify she would like the husband to stop contacting government entities like the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and the IRS.

The appeals court found the trial court did not have the authority to grant a permanent injunction because the wife failed to put the husband on “fair notice” that she intended to request one.  The appeals court also noted that the record must support each provision of an injunction.  The wife had not provided any evidence to show she would suffer irreparable harm if there was not an injunction prohibiting the husband from communicating about the divorce on social media or with government agencies.  The appeals court found granting the permanent injunction was an abuse of discretion. The appeals court deleted the permanent injunction and affirmed the rest of the trial court’s judgment.

Call McClure Law Group Today

Divorces involving immigration issues can involve complex issues and become very contentious, including giving rise to claims for annulment.  If you are expecting a contemplating a divorce involving immigration issues, you need an experienced Texas divorce attorney working for you.  Schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.

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