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Texas Court Annuls Marriage of Ward Under Guardianship

Can Someone Who Is Under A Guardianship Get Married In Texas?

No, a ward in a Texas guardianship can not get married if the right to marry has been removed and they have been found to lack capacity to marry.  If a ward has entered into a marriage while under a guardianship and lacking the right to do so, the guardian can petition to annul the marriage under Texas law.  In the April 2020 opinion In Re Marriage of Thrash, the Texas appeals court was quick to affirm the opinion of the Texas trial court annulling the marriage of the ward, because he lacked the capacity and the right to do so.

The Facts of In Re Marriage of Thrash

Charles Thrash (the ward) was found to lack capacity to care for himself, contract, or marry, and was placed under a guardianship.  Guardians of Thrash’s estate and person were appointed.  The Ward’s girlfriend, Laura Martinez, appealed the determination of incapacity, and lost, in a prior appellate proceeding available here.

The ward was determined to be “totally without capacity to care from himself…to contract, and to marry,” in two separate trial court orders entered in November 2018 and January 2019, respectively.  One of the orders expressly stated that “the Ward shall not retain the right to marry.”

In March 2019, without the guardians’ consent or knowledge, Martinez married the ward.

The guardians petitioned to annul the marriage.  The Texas trial court annulled the marriage, and Martinez appealed the decision.

Can A Guardian Annul The Marriage Of A Ward?

Yes.  The Texas Family Code allows a guardian to petition the court to annul the marriage of a ward.  Section 6.108 states:

(a) The court may grant an annulment of a marriage to a party to the marriage on the suit of the party or the party’s guardian or next friend, if the court finds it to be in the party’s best interest to be represented by a guardian or next friend, if:

(1) at the time of the marriage the petitioner did not have the mental capacity to consent to marriage or to understand the nature of the marriage ceremony because of a mental disease or defect; and

(2) since the marriage ceremony, the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabited with the other party during a period when the petitioner possessed the mental capacity to recognize the marriage relationship.

 

Under the statute, the trial court has discretion to grant or deny an annulment.

Is An Evidentiary Hearing Required Before Granting Annulment of Marriage?

No.  The Texas appeals court, in responding to Martinez’s argument that the trial court could not annul her marriage to the ward without hearing evidence, stated:

We note that Family Code section 6.108 controls, we construe it de novo, see Lippincott v. Whisenhunt, 462 S.W.3d 507, 509 (Tex. 2015) (per curiam), and we note its plain language gives the trial court discretion to grant an annulment of a marriage if it finds certain conditions, see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108; Kerckhoff v. Kerckhoff, 805 S.W.2d 937, 939 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1991, no writ) (citing an earlier version of the statute).The annulment statute’s plain language does not require the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing before it grants an annulment. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108…

A Texas Ward Must Have Capacity To Marry at the Time of Marriage

In order to annul the marriage under Texas law, the guardians had to show that “at the time of the marriage [Thrash] did not have the mental capacity to consent to marriage or to understand the nature of the marriage ceremony because of a mental disease or defect.”  See Tex. Fam. Code § 6.108(a)(2).

Martinez asserted that she exchanged vows with the ward in March 2019.  The ward was determined to be “totally without capacity to care from himself…to contract, and to marry,” in two separate trial court orders entered in November 2018 and January 2019, respectively.  One of the orders expressly stated that “the Ward shall not retain the right to marry.”

Martinez urged that the finding of incapacity was merely a rebuttable presumption.  Martinez pointed to no evidence or authority to demonstrate that she overcame any presumption of incapacity by the time of the marriage.  Therefore, the Texas appeals court upheld the finding that the ward did not have the mental capacity at the time of the marriage to consent to the marriage or to understand the nature of the marriage ceremony.

A Texas Ward Must Have Capacity to Recognize The Marriage

The second element that had to be shown by the guardians was that “since the marriage ceremony, [Thrash] has not voluntarily cohabited with [Martinez] during a period when [Thrash] possessed the mental capacity to recognize the marriage relationship.” See Tex. Fam. Code § 6.108(a)(2).

Martinez did not point to any authority that Thrash’s capacity to marry was reinstated and that he voluntarily cohabited with Martinez such that he was able to recognize the marriage relationship.

Martinez also argued that the ward should have had a guardian ad litem appointed as required by Estates Code section 1203.051 (removing a guardian).  Because the annulment was a separate proceeding from the guardianship, and was not a proceeding to determine whether to remove either of the guardians, the Texas Estates Code did not apply to the proceeding to annul the marriage.

In conclusion, the court stated:

Despite Laura’s arguments to the contrary, the trial court was not required to hold an evidentiary hearing before it decided the guardians’ petition to annul the marriage, the evidence supporting the two essential elements to annul the marriage on the ground of mental incapacity was both legally and factually sufficient, and the trial court did not deprive Thrash of his due process or equal protection rights.

In sum, marrying a person in a guardianship who has had their right to marry removed, and lacks the capacity to marry, makes it a very straightforward decision for a Texas court to annul the marriage.

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