Committee reviews language in marriage law

PARKERSBURG – A committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates Thursday reviewed language in the state law that allows a marriage to be voided.

The terms used are archaic, having been written decades ago, said Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Existing law allows either party to void the marriage for, among other reasons including impotence and venereal diseases, if one was insane or an imbecile at the time of the marriage. The committee approved an amendment that changed the language to legally incompetent.

A marriage that is voided is different from a divorce in that a voided marriage never legally existed and was invalid from the beginning, which affects how property is divided and how support payments are imposed.

Ellem moved to eliminate the option to void a marriage if one of the partners is a felon. Felonies are more prevalent today than 60 to 70 years ago, he said.

“There’s so many different ways now that a felony can be committed,” Ellem said.

Ellem’s amendment was defeated.

“I can’t imagine if you really loved the person why it would make a difference,” he said.

Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, took issue with the term “archaic.”

“I take issue with the term of things being archaic, maybe that’s because of my age,” said Ireland, who is 70. “The fact that something has been around a while doesn’t mean that it’s not good.”

Also defeated was an amendment from Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, who said the entire section on allowing a marriage to be voided should be removed. Marriage should be cherished and promoted and the concept of voiding a marriage was repugnant, he said.

“If it is the policy of the state of West Virginia that marriage is an institution that should be cherished and promoted and should not be easily entered into without gravity and seriousness, then the very concept of voidable marriage is repugnant,” Skinner said.

The amendment failed with delegates noting that every other state has voiding laws. Delegates also expressed concern about young people who impulsively get married in Las Vegas.

Other reasons allowing a marriage to be voided are if prior to the marriage the wife was pregnant with someone else’s child, if she was notoriously a prostitute or if the husband was notoriously licentious.