Brittney Griner is one of the most well-known and talented members of the WNBA – the women’s professional basketball league. She is also famous for “coming out” as a lesbian after she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury. Glory Johnson is also a member of the WNBA, playing for the Tulsa Shock.
The relationship and eventual marriage of Griner and Johnson struck many as unusual, not because of their notoriety but because of sexual orientation – specifically that of Johnson, who had identified herself as heterosexual. But apparently she fell for Johnson as early as 2013, and they began their romance in 2014, culminating in their wedding on May 8, 2015.
But only 28 days later, Griner filed for an annulment.
Oh and one more thing – Johnson is pregnant.
From a legal standpoint, how does this play out?
To secure an annulment, a party must allege fraud or misrepresentation of a critical piece of information that would have prevented the marriage from taking place. Infertility tends to be a very common basis for annulment. In this case, given that Johnson had been inconsistent in her sexual orientation, it could be possible that after the wedding Johnson revealed she no longer identified as a lesbian. If true, that would be the type of misrepresentation to secure an annulment.
But would that still hold true if one spouse is pregnant?
Generally, no. Courts do not like to annul marriages that produce children because it would essentially “bastardize” children who were lawfully born during a marriage and leave the court without the authority to enter orders of child custody and support.
Why would Griner want an annulment rather than a divorce? If she wanted to protect herself financially, and the parties did not have a prenuptial agreement, an annulment eliminates any claim either party has to the property of the other and also any claim to maintenance. If she felt that the marriage was a sham, she may want to have it “erased” legally for emotional reasons.
As we have discussed in the blog before, prior to states recognizing same sex marriages, the only way to terminate such a marriage would often be through annulment if the couple no longer resided in the state in which they married. But now that we seem on the cusp of universal recognition of same sex marriage, the option of an annulment would seem restricted to those rare occasions of fraud and where children are not involved.
Unless Johnson agrees to the annulment and the court agrees as well, it seems more likely that divorce will be the only option available to end this very short marriage. However, if Griner is not part of the surrogacy agreement or Johnson got pregnant through other means without the consent of Griner, Griner could still pursue the annulment.
It will be interesting to see how the litigation proceeds.
If you have questions about annulment, contact us – we can help.