A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Pretty Wife, Ugly Baby, Angry Hubby

Jian Feng

By Courtney Weinstein

News from China that’s been swirling around the Internet:  A man had an ugly baby.

At first Jian Feng insisted that his wife had been unfaithful because there was no way in hell he could have sired such an unattractive child. A DNA test proved him wrong. He had produced “an extremely ugly baby girl” (his words, not mine).

And then Mrs. Feng coughed up a little secret — she had undergone about $100,000 in cosmetic procedures before they met. Mr. Feng was outraged. He felt cheap, used, bamboozled. He was not going to put up with his wife’s fraudulent behavior. Did he ask for an apology? Maybe. Did he sleep on the couch for a couple of nights? Perhaps. In fact, he went further than that: He filed for divorce.  And even further than that:  He sued Mrs. Feng on the grounds of false pretenses; he’d married her believing she was a natural beauty. A court ruled in his favor, to the tune of $120,000

While the media has been covering the story (even trying to figure out if it’s true or not), we wondered whether those of us who’ve had some botox are safe. Does concealing plastic surgery from your betrothed constitute fraud?

LASIS investigates New York’s take on secretly nipping and tucking before walking down the aisle.

According to New York Domestic Law, “a marriage is void from the time its nullity is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction if either party thereto: consent to such marriage by reason of force, duress or fraud.”

In a 1933 New York Court of Appeals case, the court stated that in an action to annul a marriage based on fraud, the party seeking annulment must demonstrate that he relied on the premarital representations and that — (and here’s the key) –but for the those representations, he would not have entered into holy matrimony. More recently, in a 2000 New York Supreme Court Appellate Division case, a man seeking to annul his marriage claimed that his wife had fraudulently misrepresented her age, prior marital status, and even a child. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to find that the fraud was material and that had he been aware of these facts, the rueful husband would not have consented to the marriage.

If a party can prove that had his spouse disclosed plastic surgeries performed prior to their meeting, he (or let’s be fair, she) would not have consented to marriage, then a court may grant an annulment.

Whether that can be considered fraudulent inducement and deserving of money damages is another matter.

According to a 2011 New York Supreme Court case, in order to bring a cause of action for money damages for a marriage induced by fraud, the party seeking the annulment must show “a representation of a material existing fact (or concealment of such fact while under a duty to reveal it), falsity, scienter, deception/inducement, justifiable reliance, and injury or damages.”

In a 1952 New York Court of Appeals case, the court stated that the fraud sufficient to justify annulment of a marriage must relate to matters vital to the marriage. Historically speaking, the purpose of marriage was procreation. Some people likely still feel this way. If a party wanted to argue that concealing certain personal facts (or procedures) had an effect on procreation (having ugly babies), that could be seen as a matter vital to the marriage relationship.

On the other hand, a 1961 New York Supreme Court case stated that, “there is no authority holding that concealment of the fact that a spouse’s mother was mentally incompetent is a matter vital to the marriage relationship and constitutes such a fraud as would vitiate the marriage.” If something as serious as family mental health issues does not constitute fraud, then concealment of plastic surgery probably wouldn’t either.

According to a 1930 New York Court of Appeals case, “nondisclosure as to birth, social position, wealth, good health, and temperament cannot vitiate the marriage contract.” The court stated that New York law does not grant relief for subsequent disappointment. Clearly, Mr. Feng is disappointed by Mrs. Feng’s natural appearance. There’s no legal recourse for disappointment.

In a more recent New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division case, a husband had made known to his wife-to-be that he wanted to live with her in a different city following their marriage, but the wife never explicitly promised to comply. Additionally, the husband never established that had he known his wife had no intention of moving with him, he would not have consented to marrying her. The court held that a reasonably prudent person would not have been deceived into marriage by the wife’s silence. If Mrs. Feng was silent about the cause of her beauty (a scalpel, as it turns out), then a court might well not deem her silence to be the kind of fraud to trigger money damages.

Then again, a Maryland court has stated that, “fraud or concealment, which relates to essential matters necessarily affecting the health or well being of the parties themselves or their offspring suffices to justify the annulment.” Perhaps Mr. Feng would not have procreated had he known what his wife looked like pre-surgery. Perhaps he feels that being unattractive can lead to depression, or being bullied, which could certainly affect someone’s self esteem.

Sadly, it seems inevitable that his daughter’s  “health and well being” will suffer greatly — when she is old enough to use the Internet and catches wind of this story.

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One Response

  1. Joyce says:

    Excellent article Courtney! Look forward to the next one!

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