A friend of mine was dating, and nearly married an immigrant woman. While she was in the "old country," her parents had her sterilized under circumstances that would be illegal in the U.S. but permissible in the other country. (This happened while the girl was undergoing another operation, so she wasn't even informed.) Only when she went to the doctor for a pre marital check up was this discovered.

Since my friend wanted children, they broke up the engagement. But suppose he had found out after the wedding. What rights would he have in the United States? Could he have the marriage annulled as opposed to file for divorce? Could he sue the girl's parents for doing this and not telling her about it?

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    Although the intent to have children in marriage is more than common, I doubt there are laws that attach it as a "right". Marriage itself is not a contract where having children is implied as the consideration.
    – Greendrake
    Sep 3, 2018 at 20:33
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    @Greendrake: That varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If, for example KIng Henry VIII found out that his latest wife was sterile, the marriage would be annulled, and whoever suggested it would pay with his head. Which is essentially what happened with Anne of Cleves.
    – Libra
    Sep 3, 2018 at 21:33
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    See the answer here for a fairly detailed rundown of annulment in the US. The answer doesn't directly address fertility related issues (though it does include gender identity issues). I take that to mean they are unlikely to be cause for annulment, and a standard (no fault) divorce would be the available option, though I may be mistaken. Sep 3, 2018 at 22:21
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    In Cannonical (Catholic) law, infertility is cause of annulment only if the affected person knew about it and hid it. Making infertility always a cause of annulment would be problematic for people who choses to marry despite knowing their partner infertility (for example, if the woman has already passed the menopause). Remember, annulment means "this marriage should never have been celebrated and never was valid", so a blanket "infertility means annulment" clause would mean that any marriage with an infertile person would be void.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 3, 2018 at 22:30
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    @SJuan76: This was a strange situation where a 20-something woman honestly did not know of her condition because her parents hid it from her. So the "fault" was not with her, but with her parents.
    – Libra
    Sep 3, 2018 at 23:51

2 Answers 2


The full answer is too broad (it's a 50-state survey question). Here is a starter, though. In Washington, annulment may be sought if

(i) The marriage or domestic partnership should not have been contracted because of age of one or both of the parties, lack of required parental or court approval, a prior undissolved marriage of one or both of the parties, a prior domestic partnership of one or both parties that has not been terminated or dissolved, reasons of consanguinity, or because a party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage or domestic partnership, either because of mental incapacity or because of the influence of alcohol or other incapacitating substances, or because a party was induced to enter into the marriage or domestic partnership by force or duress, or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage or domestic partnership, and that the parties have not ratified their marriage or domestic partnership by voluntarily cohabiting after attaining the age of consent, or after attaining capacity to consent, or after cessation of the force or duress or discovery of the fraud, shall declare the marriage or domestic partnership invalid as of the date it was purportedly contracted

But then also

(ii) The marriage or domestic partnership should not have been contracted because of any reason other than those above, shall upon motion of a party, order any action which may be appropriate to complete or to correct the record and enter a decree declaring such marriage or domestic partnership to be valid for all purposes from the date upon which it was purportedly contracted

So an annulment would have to fit into one of these latter unspecified reasons. Although material fraud is considered to be such a reason, the closest case (an attempt to annul based on fraud), the WA Supreme Court avoided deciding whether a particular instance of alleged fraud sufficed to invalidate a marriage, since in addition one party was incompetent and the marriage was not solemnized, as required by state law.

In Radochonski v. Radochonski (1998 Wash. App. LEXIS 765), the husband sought a declaration of invalidity of marriage based on fraud in the essentials of the marriage (the allegation was that the wife entered into the marriage to get permanent residency). The petition was denied because "the alleged fraud does not go to the 'essentials' of marriage" and because he "cannot demonstrate reasonable reliance on any statements Barbara made as to her motive in marrying him". The court notes that there is only one case, Harding v. Harding, addressing what the essentials of marriage are:

where one of the parties to a marriage ceremony determines before the ceremony that he or she will not engage in sexual intercourse with the other after marriage, not disclosing such intention to the other, and carries out such determination, the offending spouse commits a fraud in the contract of marriage affecting an essential of the marital relation, against which the injured party may be relieved by annulment of the marriage.

The court said that fraud in an essential may be found (citing cases in other states)

where one spouse has misled another on an attribute that prevents sexual relations between the parties such as impotence, venereal disease, and drug abuse, the latter on the theory that narcotics cause impotence. These attributes have gone to the essentials of marriage because they affected the sexual relations that are at the heart of the marriage

but no so in the case of

premarital chastity, false representations as to love and affection, misrepresentation of affection, failure to disclose out-of-wedlock children, fraudulent representation of pregnancy, and failure to end a previous relationship.

So it is highly unlikely that fraud in the essentials of marriage would be found at least in Washington.


The answer depends on who knew what and when, and whether any material misstatements were made.

In the present case, the wife had been sterilized without her knowledge. That this would be illegal in the US is irrelevant, she had no knowledge and couldn't make any misstatements as to her ability to have children.

That rules out "fraud" as a cause of action, unless she learned of this sterilization prior to the marriage and made statements which were contrary to it. So, quickly ruling out "didn't learn about it until too late", there is again no fraud -- she didn't claim to be "otherwise healthy" knowing she'd been sterilized.

That leaves the case where she knew about the sterilization prior to marriage, and made statements which were false ("I can't wait to start a family, I want to have a dozen children!") and the husband relied upon those statements ("I can't wait to make lots of babies with you, I'm so glad you want to make lots of babies, too, because all those other women I dated didn't want children!")

Now that fraud has been established -- they screwed like wild mink, she claimed to go to a fertility clinic but was actually get a mani-pedi and clubbing with her girlfriends -- there is a question of damages and whether or not the particular state allows at-fault divorces.

And on the point of at-fault divorce, grounds for same, property distribution, and so on, the states vary widely. Without listing a specific state, this is the kind of 50-state-survey which requires far more research than most of us are willing to do.

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