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My "husband" lied about being divorced! What do I do?

Carolyn Woodruff
Dear Carolyn,

Hello. Can you help me? I am a 51-year-old woman who got into a wedded relationship (though celibate and platonic) with this 73-year-old man who needed my financial help with his social security. It turns out he never divorced his previous wife nor did she divorce him. Mine with him, I’ve been told, is invalid and does not count, especially since we did not consummate it on the wedding night for I had my period and he was sick and we still haven’t since. It’s not like that anyway. Trouble is I am currently unemployed and need work which means I need proper and correct ID (picture, as well as the correct social security card) in order to apply for work.

I don’t have income to pay a lawyer to stamp our certificate and license invalid or whatever they do to help free the invalid spouse from the one still married to the previous one. How can I get our documents stamped invalid by the courts (the law, lawyers, Judges – whoever) so I will have proof to switch back to my original birth name to get my ID and social security correct in order to fill out applications without income to pay a lawyer?

Are there legal agencies you know of that can and will help me so I can move on?

Also, I have been told the law will not prosecute them for not divorcing unless it had to do with property. Is that true? I do not want to send anyone to jail, I just want to be freed from this false hood in order to move on with my life.

– Dismayed

Dear Dismayed,

I am so sorry. Please stand up for yourself, as you certainly have been duped. You appear from the facts you present to be a victim of the crime of bigamy.

Luckily, you have a cause of action for annulment in North Carolina. Your ground for annulment is governed by North Carolina General Statute 51-3, which states in relevant part: “All marriages…between persons either of whom as a husband or wife living at the time of such marriage…shall be void.”

You have to file a complaint and summons (a lawsuit) with the District Court where you live, presumably Greensboro. You need to state in your complaint the following:

a. Name and where the other party lives;
b. Date of the purported marriage and the location of the purported marriage;
c. Children born, of whom there are none under your circumstances, but you need to state this anyway.
d. State the circumstances of the marriage your purported husband had with his actual wife. Attach that marriage license of your purported husband to his actual wife, if possible.
e. You can add that your marriage was never consummated if you wish, but this really doesn’t matter under the technical legal statutes, in your situation.
f. State which name you want to use after the annulment;
g. Ask the court to grant you an annulment.

There is no prohibition against you doing this yourself, but it will be a little cumbersome. You will have to type your complaint. The Clerk of Court located at the courthouse will likely give you a Summons to fill out. You will pay a filing fee to the Clerk of Court and give the Sheriff with his fee the Summons and Complaint to give to (“serve”) your purported husband. He will have 30 days to answer. He may or may not answer. At any rate, after the 30 days go back to the courthouse and apply for a calendar date for your case to be heard. At the hearing, you should receive a Judgment of Annulment.

You will use this Judgment of Annulment to get all of your documents straightened out like your social security card and your driver’s license.

You might check with Legal Aid and see if they will help you. You also might post a request at Elon Law School to see if there is a young lawyer who might do this for you for free (“pro bono”). Call Elon Law and ask for the “pro bono” division.

You are probably describing the crime of “bigamy,” which is a Class I felony (North Carolina General Statutes section 14-183). Whether this will be prosecuted is up to law enforcement and the District Attorney, and the prosecution, if any, will be out of your control. However, I will say my gut is that there will not be a prosecution unless you push for one. At any rate, YOU NEED YOUR ANNULMENT, and I strongly urge you to pursue this immediately.

Have a family law question? Ask Carolyn!

Send your questions to Ask Carolyn through our website, on social media, by email at, or mail them to P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC 27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions.

Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”

This blog is a revised excerpt from Ask Carolyn, available on kindle. 

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