Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Matter of Marriage of Kidane & Araya, 389 P.3d 212 (2017)

This case answers the following question:

What is a void marriage?

The issue in this case is what is a void marriage. A void marriage is a marriage that is invalid from its inception, that cannot be made valid, and that can be terminated by either party without obtaining a divorce or annulment.

In this case, Kidane came to the US from Ethiopia in 2012 and married Araya in Las Vegas in 2013. On March 5, 2015, Araya filed a complaint to annul the marriage, stating that Kidane was loving during the courtship, but stopped after the marriage because he said, “he did not need her anymore because he had his green card.” The court dismissed the claim. On March 6, 2015, Kidane filed for divorce on the basis of incompatibility, and Araya filed a counter-petition for annulment, alleging the marriage was void because Kidane had been married to someone else at the time he married Araya. The testimony at the bench trial was very conflicted, and there were credibility issues for each witness. Tesfaye claimed to have been married to Kidane in a traditional Ethiopian wedding in 2011. Kidane alleges it was just a celebration and not an actual wedding. Tesfaye introduced Kidane to Araya in October 2012, shortly after his arrival in the US. Tesfaye had remarried in the US at the time of the trial. There was conflicting testimony about living situations, and it is unclear if Kidane and Araya lived together either before or after the marriage. At some point, Kidane told Araya he was already married to Tesfaye, which led to her decision to file for annulment in March 2015. The court granted Araya’s request for an annulment.

A void marriage is a marriage that is invalid from its inception, that cannot be made valid, and that can be terminated by either party without obtaining a divorce or annulment. Kansas state law allows a court to grant an annulment if a marriage is void for any reason, including if it was induced by fraud. At trial, there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the marriage was a sham, meaning that the parties got married without intending to live together as husband and wife. While the Kansas legislature has never expressed whether sham marriages are void, the court found the sham marriage was void because it was for an illegal purpose – to fraudulently obtain a green card. The sole purpose of the marriage was to commit fraud on the immigration authorities who issue green cards. The court found persuasive that other states had allowed annulments where the facts supported a finding that the marriage was a sham solely for immigration-related purposes. The court found that the parties did not commit fraud on one another since they both knew the reason for the marriage from its inception. Instead, the fraud in this case was on the federal government by both parties.

The decision was affirmed. The marriage was a sham, and, therefore, voidable/void. An annulment was proper to find the marriage was not valid at its inception. The district court judge did not err in granting the annulment.