New measures to prevent ‘predatory marriage’
Commonly used in Canada, the term ‘predatory marriage’ means someone being led into marriage without the mental capacity to consent. Sadly, the majority of those affected are entering into second marriages and are from the older generation.
Introducing the Marriage and Civil partnership (Consent) Bill, the MP for Leeds North East, Fabian Hamilton, said that laws protecting individuals from forced marriage did not cover the required ground. Mr Hamilton mentioned Joan Blass, a 91-year-old with vascular dementia who married a man 24 years younger than her a year before her death. Parliament heard Mrs Blass met Colman Folan in 2011, the same year she was diagnosed with dementia, and it was said he moved into her home within a month of them meeting.
Mr Hamilton described how Mrs Blass had died of cancer in March 2016, with her family only learning Mrs Blass had married Mr Folan after she had passed away. The Commons heard Mrs Blass’ daughter Daphne Franks, from Gledhow in Leeds, told Mr Hamilton, “no family member or friend had been told about the secret marriage ceremony”
“Joan had made a will some years before meeting Colman, but Daphne discovered to her surprise and shock that a marriage automatically revokes a previous will,” Mr Hamilton said. “Colman now had complete control over Joan’s estate, in spite of the fact that Daphne previously had Power of Attorney on behalf of her mother during her lifetime.”
In a statement given to BBC Radio 4 on behalf of Mr Folan in March, his relationship with Mrs Blass was described as “long, loving and caring”. It read: “I was not made aware by Mrs Franks, her family or Mrs Blass’ GP of any concerns they had about her capacity or a diagnosis of dementia. “The registrars who performed the marriage ceremony believed Mrs Blass had the capacity to enter into marriage.” It added: “Mrs Blass wanted to marry me and I believed at the time, and still do, that she had capacity to make that decision for herself.”
- Marriage should no longer revoke a previous will in every case
- Better training provided for registrars to ensure robust procedures for safeguarding apparently vulnerable individuals
- The ‘capacity to marry’ should be established via a simple questionnaire, with an option of a medical assessment also available
- Notices of intention of a marriage should be published on the internet
Concluding the Ten Minute Rule Bill, Mr Hamilton said: “It is not good enough for a registrar simply to say that because one of the participants in a marriage ceremony was smiling at the time, that meant consent was happily given. “Much of the anecdotal evidence suggests that Joan had no idea she had ever been married to Mr Folan and that there was clear evidence her mental capacity was severely reduced in the last years of her life.”
He believed the case “has profound implications for many hundreds of other families who may find themselves in a similar situation across the country”.
The bill will have a second reading in Parliament on 25 January.
Ann-Marie Matthews is a solicitor in the private client team at Barker Gotelee, Solicitors in Suffolk.