Getting married is one of the most exciting times in many people’s relationships. It’s a time to celebrate your journey and solidify your love in front of friends and family. But what happens when it’s not as exciting for you as everyone thinks, because you feel you are being forced to marry? What is marriage by undue influence? How does it happen? And if you think this has or is happening to you, what can you do about it?
What is marriage by undue influence?
Put simply, undue influence is when one person takes advantage of their influence over the other person for their own benefit. Generally, the person is aware of their position of power, and they effectively force you to do something you don’t want to do, using many persuasive tactics.
Many times, in these situations, the person under duress will have a strong relationship with the other person, which makes it even more complex to determine what is duress and what is a request.
For undue influence to be present, the influence needs to be so overwhelming that the behaviour and decisions of the disadvantaged person are not voluntary or free, and they result in an inequitable outcome for them.
Anyone can become a victim of undue influence or duress regardless of:
- Social status
Every situation is different, but some common situations that may amount to marriage by duress are:
- Being forced into a marriage by family members
- Being coerced into a marriage by your partner
- Being pressured to sign a last minute prenup in your partner’s favour
How does it happen?
Sometimes undue influence or duress is applied over a prolonged period of time, wearing you down slowly until you submit. In these circumstances, it can happen so slyly that you might even begin to believe you have made the choice of your own free will and that you are happy with the agreement.
Other times the process may be short and sharp but leave you with no choice but to agree to the demands. Each situation is unique, but there are several widespread strategies that may be used to pressure you into a marriage including:
- Persistent pressure
- False imprisonment
It doesn’t matter what method is used to pressure you into getting married. The most critical points are:
- That you are at a disadvantage compared to the other person
- You feel you have no choice but to agree to their demands
- The demands leave you at a distinct disadvantage
If this is starting to sound familiar, you might be wondering what can you do about it? Especially if you are already married.
What can you do if this has happened to you?
The first thing to remember is - you’re not alone, and help is available. Whether you haven’t walked down the aisle yet, or whether you have, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible. Family lawyers are experts in both family and relationship law. They can:
- Listen to your concerns
- Determine whether undue influence was present in your marriage (or is present if you haven’t yet married)
- Provide advice and guidance
- Prepare your case for court if required
- Represent you if your case goes to court
It’s a good idea to make a note of the duress or undue influence you feel you have experienced before you meet with your lawyer. This doesn’t have to be complex, stick to the simple facts:
- Who applied the duress
- What was said or done to you
This will help your lawyer determine whether you have a case and make preparing any paperwork much faster and less stressful for you.
If you have already married your partner, you may be wondering what can be done? If your lawyer believes your marriage may have been subject to undue influence, you have grounds to apply for an annulment.
An annulment can only be granted by the courts and is different from a divorce. If the courts grant your request for an annulment, it’s a declaration that the marriage between two people was void from the beginning. It’s as if the marriage never took place.
It’s a good idea to have a lawyer prepare your application for the courts. Proving marriage by undue influence can be tricky and you want to be sure you have thought of everything before you submit your application for annulment.