When what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas

void marriages

In Australia, bigamy and void marriages are a rare species in family law – but Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers can lend their expertise to these situations and more. Their specialist team can assist in whatever family law troubles our clients face…such as this unusual case involving a Vegas wedding.

In 2015 Mr Lyons travelled to the United States with his then partner, Ms Caroline. Whilst they were there, and after one too many drinks, Mr Lyons and Ms Caroline travelled to a County Clerk’s Office and were married by a celebrant. There were witnesses, presumably who had also had one too many drinks.

Having long since separated from Ms Caroline and largely forgotten about his fateful trip to the United States, Mr Lyons proposed to his newest darling, Mrs Lyons, and they were married in Brisbane in October 2018.

Just prior to the wedding Mr Lyons’ sister received a text message from Ms Caroline commenting that they “really needed to sort this whole marriage business out” so they could both remarry and move on with their lives. For one reason or other, Mr Lyons’ sister failed to mention this when the priest asked if there was any reason Mr and Mrs Lyons should not be married at their ceremony in Brisbane. The ceremony went off without a hitch and Mr and Mrs Lyons spent a couple of days in wedded bliss before Mr Lyons’ sister reminded him of the United States ceremony and told him about the text she had received from Ms Caroline.

Having been reminded of the earlier ceremony in the United States, Mr Lyons immediately sought legal advice and was correctly advised that, as Ms Caroline had said, they remained technically married. Very quickly thereafter Mr Lyons filed an application before the Family Court of Australia seeking to have the marriage to his new Mrs Lyons nullified so that he could go through the proper course of having his United States marriage dissolved and could remarry his bride legally in Australia and live happily ever after.

It is a rare thing for a marriage to be declared null or void and will only be void in certain circumstances under the Marriage Act 1961 where:

(a)       either of the parties is lawfully married to another person;

(b)       the parties are in a prohibited relationship, being parent/child or siblings;

(c)        the marriage was not solemnised in the formal way;

(d)       there was a lack of proper consent due to duress, mistaken identity or a lack of understanding of the nature of the ceremony;

(e)       one or both of the parties were not of marriageable age (marriageable age being 18 years, or from 16 years with parental consent or order of the court).

In this case, Mr Lyons and Ms Caroline were clearly in a legally binding marriage under the relevant law of the United States. Australian law recognises foreign marriages and so the marriage between Mr Lyons and Ms Caroline was a valid one and recognised as such in Australia. Accordingly, the 2018 marriage to Mrs Lyons was void under the Marriage Act as Mr Lyons was lawfully married to another person at the time of his marriage to Mrs Lyons.

A final twist in this sorry tale is that Mr Lyons who has now owned up to the Courts and done the right thing has been referred to the Attorney-General for consideration as to whether he should be charged with bigamy. Under the Marriage Act, bigamy, whereby someone who is already married goes through a form or ceremony of marriage with another person, is punishable by up to five (5) years imprisonment.

Although bigamy and void marriages are a rare species in family law, we consider every client and every family to be unique. The problems that our clients’ deal with are rarely the same and with our specialist team we are able to assist in whatever family law troubles our clients face. If you are having difficulties following the breakdown of your relationship or need to discuss any aspect of family life that might have a legal bent, we are more than happy to help. Our office is located in St Leonards, right by the train station. We aim to provide confident compassionate advice and hope that if you are in the midst of family dramas we can help, be it problems related to the formalising your marriage, all the way through to resolving matters long after separation.

Lisa Wagner, Principal of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers, is an Accredited Family Law Specialist, a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and a Collaborative Family Lawyer. Lisa and her colleague, Prue Hawkes have been successfully helping people with their separation and divorce for many years. You can find them in then NSM Directory and they are located in St Leonards. To find out more, head to their website.


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