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Annulments and the 90 Day Fiancé

TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé television show has been an unexpected reality TV hit – so much so that there are now countless spin-offs involving the hijinks of favorite cast members. The culture shock is very engaging, and reality TV is all about entertainment, but there is a kernel of legal truth to the show and that is the K1 Visa. It is an avenue for immigration to the US for fiancés of American citizens. Once they arrive in America, the couple needs to legally marry within 90 days or risk removal procedures. The premise of the show is simple. Many things can go wrong in those 90 days, and it never fails that something does—it is almost always a train wreck waiting to happen, and viewers get front row seats to watch the carnage.

A persistent theme that runs through the story arc of a couple’s 90 days is whether the foreign spouse truly loves the American, or if they are only here for a green card. Almost always, the first few scenes are the American spouse hanging out with his/her friends, and one of them will always ask, “Are you afraid that they only want the green card?” (It is very likely they are fed that line by a producer.) One should note that the K1 Visa process is a real and very useful tool. Some have argued that this show makes a mockery of the very real and heartbreaking struggle of bringing your loved ones from overseas. But like any reality TV show, it thrives on drama, so the fraudulent marriage theme will always exist, manufactured or real. But that makes one wonder, what would happen if you realized your K1 spouse was only faking it to gain entry? This brings the discussion to annulment.

In North Carolina, annulments attempt to make it as if the marriage never happened. There are very limited grounds for annulments, and they can be broadly categorized under void and voidable. The only void marriage is a bigamous marriage. Once the party seeking annulment proves that their spouse was already married at the time they entered into marriage, the marriage is void. Our Courts and Legislature have recognized other grounds that will make a marriage voidable (needing court action), such as underage spouses, lack of capacity, or false representations of pregnancy. However, immigration-based fraud is not specifically mentioned. But such misrepresentations could fall under the requisites of marriage under GS 51-1, requiring consent to marry. The analysis of fraud and how it affects consent is not as straightforward as it might seem, and complaints for annulments have to be specific on grounds. It is best to speak to a family law specialist if you think fraud played a role in your entry into a marriage.