On Motion for Reargument Dec. 11, 1951.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Action by husband for annulment of marriage. The Superior Court, New Castle County, Herrmann, J., held that a wife's alleged pre-marital concealments and misrepresentations as to moral conduct and character do not go to the essentials of the marriage and therefore do not justify annulment of marriage under Delaware law, and likewise wife's alleged concealment and misrepresentations as to source of her funds do not constitute fraud, and that full faith and credit clause barred impeachment of wife's Texas divorce decree from prior husband.
Where defendant spouse is personally served or enters personal appearance in divorce action, neither such spouse nor a stranger to divorce action will be permitted under full faith and credit clause of federal Constitution to collaterally attack divorce decree in sister state unless state in which decree was granted will permit a similar attack in its courts. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1738; U.S.C.A.Const. art. 4, § 1.
[46 Del. 463] Arthur G. Logan, and Stephen E. Hamilton, Jr., (of Logan, Marvel & Boggs) of Wilmington, for plaintiff.
James R. Morford, and William H. Bennethum, and William Marvel (of Morford, Bennethum, Marvel & Cooch) all of Wilmington, for defendant.
The plaintiff seeks the annulment of his marriage to the defendant on the grounds (1) that, by reason of a void divorce decree, the defendant had a husband living at the time of her marriage with the plaintiff; and (2) that the plaintiff's marriage to the defendant was procured by fraud.
At the close of the plaintiff's case, the defendant moved for a dismissal of the petition on the ground that under the facts and the law the plaintiff was not entitled to a decree of annulment. The Court declined to rule on the motion at that stage of the case.
There is no conflict in the evidence as to the following facts:
[46 Del. 464] The plaintiff and the defendant were married in New York City on November 20, 1948. This was the second marriage for each of them.
The defendant had married Willard R. Wigley in 1934, and they resided together in Waco, Texas. In June of 1936, the defendant decided to seek a career in motion pictures. She left Waco and went to California, first accompanied by her dramatic coach and later joined there by her mother. Wigley remained in Waco. He did not object to the defendant's professional aspirations nor to her departure from Texas in an effort to fulfill them. The defendant was not successful in California and in the Fall of 1937, accompanied by her mother and with Wigley's consent, she left California and went to New York City to seek a theatrical career. In 1938, Wigley visited the defendant in New York for about a month.
Shortly after her arrival in New York, the defendant met a certain man who undertook to sponsor her in the pursuit of a career. This was the beginning of a relationship which lasted until 1948. During the period from 1939 to September 1948, the defendant received from that person large sums of money, mostly in monthly installments.
In 1939, the defendant and her mother returned to Waco for a short period of time and the defendant lived with Wigley during this stay. The defendant and her mother then returned to New York. Later in 1939, the defendant joined Wigley in Chicago for about a week. During this entire period, Wigley periodically sent money to the defendant for her support.
In the Spring of 1940, the defendant again returned to Waco. At first she lived with Wigley, but later she left him and lived at her mother's home in Waco. On June 4, 1940, the defendant filed a petition for divorce in the District Court for McLennan County, Texas, on the ground of cruelty. Wigley entered a general appearance in the divorce action, waived citation, and did not defend. The hearing on the petition was had on July 6, 1940. The defendant was the only witness heard and [46 Del. 465] no record of her testimony was made. Judge Giles P. Lester thereupon entered a decree divorcing the defendant from Wigley. There were no children of this marriage. Wigley is still living.
Shortly after the divorce decree was granted, the defendant and her mother returned to New York. The defendant became very active in certain New York society circles. She was quite popular and, during the period 1940 to 1948, she had a number of suitors including several men of wealth and social prominence.
The plaintiff met the defendant on April 1, 1947. The meeting had been arranged at the plaintiff's request by a mutual friend. At that time, the plaintiff was married and living with his wife in Delaware. He had been married for 23 years and was, at 47 years of age, a man of education and sophistication. After the initial meeting, the plaintiff sought other meetings with the defendant. About a month after their first meeting, the plaintiff and the defendant spent a weekend together at a resort and they had sexual relations there. From that time and until their marriage in November 1948, the plaintiff and the defendant had sexual relations at regular and frequent intervals.
[46 Del. 466] At some time prior to October 1947, the plaintiff and the defendant discussed marriage. In October 1947, the plaintiff left his wife. He continued to see the defendant constantly in the ensuing period and they continued to discuss marriage. The plaintiff made certain investigations as to the defendant's background. During the period of courtship, the plaintiff acquired certain definite impressions of the defendant as the result of her statements to him or as the result of his observations of her. He was of the opinion that the defendant was a person of good moral character; that she and her mother were living on the defendant's patrimony and on money furnished by Wigley; that the defendant's divorce from Wigley had been granted on the ground of Wigley's impotence; and that the defendant was in love with him and wished to be his wife.
In July 1948, the plaintiff's wife obtained a divorce in Wyoming and on November 20, 1948, the plaintiff and the defendant were married in New York City. They established their matrimonial domicile in Delaware and lived together until July 28, 1950. On that date the plaintiff left the home. The separation was caused by quarrels over money and other family matters. In October 1950, the defendant brought an action against the plaintiff in the Court of Chancery
for maintenance and support. During certain discovery proceedings in that action, the plaintiff acquired information upon the basis of which he formed the belief that the defendant's Texas divorce decree was fatally defective. This action for annulment, based upon the invalidity of the defendant's divorce, was thereafter filed. Later, the plaintiff received information upon the basis of which he amended his petition in this action to include the counts alleging fraud in the procurement of the marriage.
Those are the uncontroverted facts. The evidence is in irreconciliable conflict, however, as to certain other facts.
The plaintiff asserts, and the defendant denies, that the evidence establishes the following ultimate facts regarding the defendant's Texas divorce decree:
[46 Del. 467] 1. That the defendant had abandoned her residence in Texas before filing her petition for divorce.
2. That the ground of cruelty was false and was arrived at by the defendant and Wigley by collusive agreement.
3. That at the hearing on the divorce petition, the defendant lied as to her residence and as to the merits of the case.
The plaintiff further asserts, and the defendant denies, that the evidence establishes the following ultimate facts regarding the charge that the defendant procured marriage with the plaintiff by fraud:
1. That during the period 1938 to 1948, the defendant engaged in meretricious relationships with several men, and that the defendant concealed these facts from the plaintiff.
2. That, during that period of time, the defendant lived on money received by her from men with whom she had meretricious relations, and that the defendant concealed these facts from the plaintiff.
3. That the defendant married the plaintiff for his money and not because she loved him, and that her premarital representations of love and affection were false and fraudulent.
4. That the defendant knew her Texas divorce decree was procured by fraud and collusion, and that the defendant concealed these facts from the plaintiff.
Fortunately, it is not necessary to announce findings regarding the controverted facts. As a matter of law, by the application of the principles which I consider to be controlling, the plaintiff may not prevail in this proceeding even though his contentions as to all of the controverted facts be accepted.
Three questions of law are presented, the resolution of which disposes of this case. For the purpose of resolving those questions, I assume as true the controverted facts as asserted by the plaintiff. The three legal issues are as follows:
[46 Del. 468] I. May the plaintiff impeach the defendant's Texas divorce decree in this action?
II. Does the law of the forum govern in an action to annul a marriage on the ground of fraud?
III. Do the alleged concealments and misrepresentations of the defendant constitute ‘ fraud’ under the law of Delaware pertaining to annulment of marriage?
This is a collateral attack by which the plaintiff in this action, a stranger to the divorce action, attempts to impeach the defendant's Texas divorce decree.
This Court is confronted, immediately and inexorably, by the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Federal Constitution and the implementing Federal Statute. This Court may allow the plaintiff to thus assail the Texas judgment only if the Full Faith and Credit Clause permits.
The Supreme Court of the United States has recently held that, by virtue of the Full Faith and ...