Marriage Fraud

02 Feb 2012 02:30pm Kerry Abrams 

This Article examines the astonishing array of doctrines used to determine what constitutes marriage fraud. It begins by locating the traditional nineteenth-century annulment-by-fraud doctrine within the realm of contract fraud, observing that in the family law context fraudulent marriages were voidable solely at the option of the injured party. The Article then explains how, in the twentieth century, a massive expansion of public benefits tied to marriage prompted new marriage fraud doctrines to develop in various areas of the law, shifting the concept of the injured party from the defrauded spouse to the public at large. It proposes a framework for understanding these new doctrines by demonstrating that courts apply different tests for finding fraud depending on the value of the benefit sought compared to the cost to the individual of using marriage to obtain it. Furthermore, the Article argues that marriage is an ineffective means for distributing public benefits that serve specific objectives; in other words, marriage is being asked to do too much work. As a possible response to this problem, the Article concludes that lawmakers could disaggregate the components of marriage to which they attach public benefits. This would improve the efficacy of public benefits distribution without entirely dismantling the institution of marriage or jeopardizing the stability that it may provide to society.

 

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