Dissolution appeal denied: Marriage by duress claims fall short

In one of his last opinions before retirement, First District Illinois Appellate Court Justice Mathias Delort decided the unusual case of In re Marriage of Andrew, 2023 IL App (1st) 221039, in which Benjamin Andrew appealed the dismissal of his petition to invalidate his marriage and motion to terminate maintenance. Andrew argued he lacked capacity to consent to marriage because in 1994 he was induced to enter into the marriage under duress.

The case stems from the age of the parties, length of their marriage, and Andrew?s delay in raising issues pertinent to the appeal. After 20 years of marriage, Andrew filed for divorce in 2014 and the circuit court dissolved it. Both parties entered the MSA freely, voluntarily and without coercion.

Andrew?s assets were more than $3 million at the time of the divorce. They owned multiple residences and Andrew agreed to pay his wife a maintenance of $20,000 a month in the MSA.

In 2020, Andrew stopped paying maintenance and his ex-wife filed a petition to show cause seeking an order of indirect civil contempt. Andrew responded with a petition to invalidate the 1994 marriage, alleging the relationship with his ex-wife began in 1985 when he was 16 and she was his teacher and faculty advisor to his high school tennis team.

According to Andrew?s petition, his ex-wife exerted dominance and control over him and committed sexual assault upon him almost weekly. The relationship continued for years and they married when Andrew turned 25. Andrew asserted the marriage was at his ex-wife?s insistence and because of her dominance and control over him. He claimed he was incompetent and without capacity to consent making the marriage invalid and void. Andrew also alleged he entered into the marital settlement agreement under duress.

The Cook County Circuit Court dismissed Andrew?s petition to invalidate. Delort affirmed saying ?we must leave for another day the question of whether a verified history of sexual misconduct or grooming by a spouse might be a sufficient basis to invalidate a marriage.? Delort held the factual circumstances in Andrew did not give rise to such relief.

If a party like Andrew wants the marriage declared invalid based on his lack of capacity, fraud, or duress, he must file a petition within 90 days of the beginning of the marriage or since obtaining knowledge of lack of capacity, fraud, or duress. See 750 ILCS 5/302. Because Andrew waited years to file his petition, it was properly dismissed.

Andrew explained the delay by stating that, after years of therapeutic counseling, he became aware in 2020 of the dominance and control his ex-wife had over him and that she had repeatedly raped him while he was minor. This revelation through counseling purportedly allowed him to finally break from her.

Nonetheless, in affirming the dismissal of his petition, Delort considered Andrew?s conduct in negotiating against his ex-wife in connection with the MSA. The court found, based on Andrew?s behavior and the representations made in the MSA and final divorce judgment, he was not under duress, dominance and control. Accordingly, his 90-day window long passed to file a petition to invalidate the marriage.

Delort also rejected Andrew?s argument that his therapeutic breakthrough amounted to a substantial change of circumstances warranting a revision of his maintenance obligations. The MSA provided the maintenance obligations were non-modifiable regarding duration and amount. It only listed six termination events that had not yet occurred. A therapeutic breakthrough alleged past abuse or a substantial change in circumstances were not listed events. Accordingly, the court properly dismissed Andrew?s motion to terminate maintenance since he could not allege or prove a specifically listed event.

In Andrew, Delort held the 90-day rule to challenge the validity based on lack of capacity, fraud or duress. The statute is clear and unambiguous on timing so there is no room to extend it even if the allegations were true.

However, the timeframe for filing a petition for invalidity depends on the reason. If a person wants to annul a marriage because the spouse cannot consummate the marriage, they have up to one year to file.

If a person is under 18 and married without permission, they or their parent or guardian can file a petition until they turn 18. There is no deadline to seek a declaration of invalidity while the parties are still living. In most cases a declaration of invalidity cannot be sought after the death of either party, except if the marriage is illegal, in which case the time must not exceed three years following the death of the first party to die.

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