Zebra stalked by shadowy predator

Predator and prey

Samara Dutton and Henry Lopes examine the legal landscape in England and Wales as it relates to predatory marriage

Although there is nothing typical about a predatory marriage, a typical case is where a vulnerable person (often elderly), who lacks mental capacity, is enticed into marrying someone (usually significantly younger) whose motivation in pursuing the union is primarily financial. The ‘predator’ exploits the inadequacies of current legislation to benefit from the economic advantages of spousal status.

Just a few years ago, predatory marriage was a hot topic in the UK, due to the Justice for Joan campaign, which highlighted the particularly distressing case of Joan Blass.[1] Not only does it appear that Joan herself was unaware that she had married a man 23 years her junior but when he took over the administration of her estate, he refused to honour her family’s wishes and buried her in an unmarked grave. A private members’ Bill introduced by the MP for Joan's family to change the law on consent to marriage passed unanimously for a second reading but ultimately ran out of parliamentary time in 2018.

Since then, the issue has fallen out of the spotlight, despite a backdrop of an ever-ageing population and ever-increasing dementia diagnoses;[2] factors that combine to provide fertile ground for predatory suitors. Indeed, the more recent case of Robert Harrington confirms the ongoing problem.[3] This article revisits the law in this area to assess predatory marriage in England and Wales today and what assistance practitioners can offer to clients in similar circumstances.


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