Duress

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A marriage is voidable at the instance of a party who has entered into it under duress. This does not necessarily have the same meaning as in criminal law, though the decisions do not make it entirely clear just how much pressure is required.

Scott v Sebright (1886) LR 12 PD 21, Butt J
A woman W sought a decree of nullity because of fraud and duress. H had tricked her into taking over his debts, had then refused to help her unless she married him, and once he had her in the register office (again by a trick) had threatened to shoot her if she did not go through with the ceremony. H and W separated immediately after the marriage, which was never consummated. The judge granted a decree of nullity: W had not given the genuine consent the law required.

Lee v Lee (1928) 3 SW 2d 672, Supreme Court (Arkansas)
W was pregnant by M. Having established M's identity, W's father went to M with his rifle and told him he would "have to give the baby a name". M and W then married, and M subsequently sought to have the marriage declared void on grounds of duress. His petition succeeded even though W had been unaware of what her father had done; this was still duress, said the judge, and if there had not been a wedding there would probably have been a funeral.

Singh v Kaur [1981] Fam Law 152, CA
A Sikh P sought annulment of his marriage on grounds of duress. The marriage, when he was 21, had been arranged by his parents; P had protested strongly, but had been told that refusal would lead to disgrace for his family and that he would have to leave the family home and give up his place in the family business. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judge's refusal to grant a decree of nullity: they were bound by Singh v Singh, they said, and there had been no threats to P's life, limb or liberty.

Hirani v Hirani (1982) 4 FLR 232, CA
A Hindu woman W, living with her parents, went through a marriage arranged by her parents, but the marriage was never consummated and she left her husband after six weeks. W sought a decree of nullity on the grounds of her parents' duress, but initially failed because there was no evidence of any threat to her life, limb or liberty. The Court of Appeal granted the decree: W's parents had threatened to throw her out of the house if she refused to marry the man they had chosen, and this threat (coupled with other pressure) was enough to destroy the reality of W's consent.

Mahmood v Mahmood [1993] SLT 589, Lord Sutherland (Scotland)
A Pakistani wife W petitioned for the annulment of an arranged marriage. She said her parents had threatened to disown her, cut off all her financial support, and send her back to Pakistan if she did not go through with the marriage, and had already disowned her elder sister. In preliminary proceedings, the judge said there was a case to go for trial: the alleged threats were such as might go beyond the limits of proper parental influence, and could overwhelm the will of a young woman of W's age (21) and cultural background. But obiter, the consent required for marriage need not be enthusiastic consent: reluctant consent is enough as long as it is genuine.

Mahmud v Mahmud [1994] SLT 599, Lord Prosser (Scotland)
A Pakistani Muslim H sought the annulment of his arranged marriage to a cousin in Pakistan, whom he had seen only at the ceremony and never before or since. H's family had made him feel he was bringing shame on them by his refusal, and after twelve years he had finally given in. Granting the order sought, the judge said parents are entitled to apply pressure to persuade their children to do what the parents think is right for them, but a marriage is invalid if there is not a genuine change of mind. In the instant case, the pressure had been so great as to amount to force, with the result that H's own will was overborne and his consent vitiated.

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