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Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) & Annulment of Marriage Cases in Florida

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This paper will seek to determine the difference in treatment by Florida courts of marriage dissolution (or divorce) and marriage annulment by reviewing the cases of Reopelle v. Reopelle, 587 So.2d 508 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991) and Adler v. Adler, 805 So.2d 952 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2001).

            In the first case of Reopelle v. Reopelle, John Reopelle filed a case for dissolution of his first marriage to Gloria, alleging that the marriage was irretrievably broken. Thereafter, a “Final Judgment Dissolving the Marriage” was filed. It, however, did not contain a finding that the marriage was irretrievably broken. An amended final judgment was again rendered, modifying the distribution of assets, but again, omitting any finding that the marriage was irretrievably broken.

Then Gloria appealed from the judgment and requested for a reahearing. During the pendency of the appeal, John married Shirley and subsequently died. An ex parte hearing then commenced which resulted in the dismissal of the petition for dissolution and declared Gloria as John’s surviving widow and declaring the subsequent marriage to Shirley as void. Shirley appealed such judgment and filed a motion for entry of an amended final judgment dissolving the marriage nunc pro tunc to October 13, 1988. This, however, was denied.

            The main issue decided upon by the court was: whether or not Gloria’s marriage to John was terminated in the absence of that finding in the final and amended final judgments. The Court held that a formal and written finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken is not necessary in order to dissolve a marriage. Gloria cited two cases, namely Nelms v. Nelms, 285 So.2d 50 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973) and McClelland v. McClelland, 318 So.2d 160 (Fla. 1st DCA 1975, to support her argument that a written finding is required. However, the Court said that her reliance upon these cases is misplaced because the cases only required a finding of the court, not a written finding as advanced by Gloria. For the decree dissolution to be effective, the only requirements are: it must be signed by the judge and duly recorded.

            In the second case of Adler v. Adler, a petition for annulment of marriage was filed by Gary Adler to annul his marriage with Sherry Adler. Alleging fraud as the ground, he states that his wife had lied to him about the number of marriages she previously had and that he would not have married her had he known the truth.

The trial court granted the annulment. On appeal, Gary relied upon the case of Jones v. Jones, 119 Fla. 824, 161 So. 836 (1935) for affirmance of the judgment of annulment. However, the court reversed and found that such case is factually and legally distinguishable from his case.

In Jones v. Jones, the wife married somebody else while her first marriage was still subsisting Subsequently, the first husband died, as a result of which the second marriage became a valid common-law marriage. When the husband filed for annulment, the court granted it because he did not have sexual relations with his wife after knowledge of the fraud. The difference between the Jones case and the case at bar is that the marriage in the former is at least a voidable one, while the latter was never void or voidable.

The Court cites the case of Rubenstein v. Rubenstein, 46 So.2d 602, 603 (Fla.1950), to bolster its finding that the marriage cannot be annulled. According to it, “it is established law that one who has become a party to that ceremony by fraud of the other party may secure annulment if the marriage has not been completed by sexual intercourse.” Here, the parties stipulated that the marriage had already been consummated. There is therefore no legal ground to grant a decree of annulment because fraud alone is insufficient after a finding that the sexual relations between the parties had already been consummated.

From a reading and analysis of the two cases discussed above, it is obvious that Florida courts treat annulment cases much more stringently than they do dissolution cases. In the dissolution of a marriage, the Court declares the marriage contract irretrievably broken or that one of the parties is mentally incompetent. In contrast, in an annulment, the Court declares that the marriage never existed in the first place. Annulments are therefore much more difficult to prove for the parties (“Divorce and Annulment”).

In Reopelle v. Reopelle, for example, it was not found necessary to prove nor to even mention the factual basis for finding that the marriage was indeed irretrievably broken. Moreover, the Court did not require that such finding be even mentioned in the final judgment itself. The Court was content in granting dissolution knowing that a finding by the Court was made. In the Court’s own words, “None of these cases holds that, to be valid, the instrument dissolving the marriage must include any specific or “magic” phrases.”

In contrast, the Court in the second case was stricter in granting annulment. The fact that fraud alone attended the marriage between the Adlers is not sufficient to grant annulment. This may be rooted to the fact that in annulment cases, the decree is granted based on evidence proving fault of one of the parties and that the marriage was entered into because consent was vitiated. (“Divorce and Annulment”)

If this is the case, it is therefore subject to ratification by the offended spouse. A court will only grant annulment in light of evidence that one party is at fault and that the other has not done any act which might be considered to have ratified it. The Court must therefore apply stricter rules in attributing fault to only one of the parties.

The cases discussed above prove a certain, perhaps incontestable point: that Florida courts treat marriage annulment much more stringently than they do the dissolution of marriage.


“Divorce and Annulment.” November 7, 2006.


Adler v. Adler, 805 So.2d 952 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2001)

Reopelle v. Reopelle, 587 So.2d 508 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991)

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