I recently read about a man (Bob) who married a woman (Alice) who already had a daughter from a previous relationship. Bob wanted more children, and Alice was happy to oblige. However, after several years of trying, they never managed to conceive. They approached doctors, who tested Bob for infertility; when those results showed that Bob was fertile, Alice would insist they were incorrect because she knows she's fertile (she's already given birth to a daughter after all). After 13 years and still not being able to conceive, they split up.

18 months after they split up, Bob found out that Alice was lying: she was infertile, and she knew she was infertile, because she had undergone tubal ligation (a surgical procedure which permanently renders her infertile) before they married. Needless to say Bob was infuriated.

Question: does Bob have any legal recourse in this case? Does it matter if genders were reversed (since with genders reversed, the woman could have passed menopause and therefore have no chance of having children)?

  • If near-term, I believe this may be justification for a marriage annulment.
    – mongo
    Jan 9, 2020 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


I exclude Shari`a law because I don't know, but generally there would be no legal recourse that depends on the lie. A marriage is not legally viewed as a contract with enforceable obligations, so a woman could not be forced to bear a child against her will if she had earlier promised to do so, and she could not be penalized in any way. The man still has the ability to obtain a divorce.

There is a difference between a fault-based divorce and a no-fault divorce, where a fault-based divorce may be quicker (dispenses with the requirement for months of separate living). In a jurisdiction that has fault-based divorce, the traditional grounds are cruelty, adultery, desertion, imprisonment, and physical inability to engage in sexual intercourse undisclosed before marriage. The latter does not include the inability to get pregnant.

Division of marital assets is governed by law, where the principles of division are not punishment, they are equity (although states split into "community property" vs. "equitable distribution" based on the distinction "what is equitable" versus "50-50" – equitable distribution states do not sanction punishing a spouse for misconduct).

There are also "marital torts" for certain kinds of wrongful acts, such assault, infecting a spouse with an STD, defamation etc. But as is the case with any tort, there has to be a legal duty between the parties, and that duty has to come from operation of law and not just agreement. There is no legal duty to always tell the truth or to bear children.

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