Today’s post is about Johnny Storm (aka the Human Torch) and his marriage to Alicia Masters (actually the Skrull Lyja posing as Masters). Ken wrote in to ask “Was Johnny Storm’s marriage to Lyja valid?”
This isn’t the only time that this scenario has occurred in comics. Ken also asked about the marriage between Namor the Sub-Mariner and Dorma (actually Llyra in disguise). In that case a quirk of Atlantean law came to the rescue: because Namor thought he was marrying Dorma, his marriage was to her and not Llyra, even though Dorma was not present at the ceremony. I’m not sure what that says about the nature of consent in Atlantean law, but we’ll stick with the Johnny Storm/Lyja case, since New York law is a bit easier to research.
I. Void and Voidable Marriages
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is that their marriage would be voidable. N.Y. Domestic Relations Law § 7 states
A marriage is void from the time its nullity is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction if either party thereto: … 4. Consent[ed] to such marriage by reason of force, duress or fraud
There’s a distinction between a marriage (or other contract) that is voidable and one that is void. A void marriage (defined in §§ 5-6) is one that never exists at all, typically in cases if incest or bigamy. A voidable marriage is a marriage until a court declares it void, and so can theoretically remain a legitimate marriage if the parties want it to be. So in this case if Johnny Storm and Lyja agreed that they really did love each other after all (certainly Lyja claims to), then they could stay married, though there would be a lot of paperwork to correct.
Alas, love does not conquer all here, and Johnny wants none of it. So could he prove a case of fraud?
New York law treats the kind of fraud sufficient to void a marriage as similar to that which would void a contract. ”Marriage is a civil contract, and the courts will annul such a marriage like other contracts, where the consent of a party to it has been procured by fraud or the misrepresentation of a material fact.” Lembo v. Lembo, 193 Misc. 1055, 1057 (Sup. Ct. 1949). Further:
Where the ground relied upon for dissolution is fraud, the fraud contemplated by the statute must be of a nature and import so serious that it destroys the essence of the marriage contract and of a magnitude that the person asserting the fraud as a ground for dissolution would not have entered the marriage contract, if, in advance thereof, the misrepresentations had been revealed.
Di Pillo v. Di Pillo, 17 Misc.2d 673, 675 (Sup. Ct. 1959). It seems pretty clear that lying about one’s identity as an alien at war with the human race and impersonating another person already known to the other party are sufficient. Johnny would not have married Lyja had she been honest about her identity. Indeed, he likely would have attacked her on sight.
III. An Alternate Approach
Another approach would be to argue that the marriage was void from the beginning (as opposed to voidable) because human/Skrull marriage is not legally recognized in New York. Our prior post about this was a bit controversial, but our conclusion there was that interspecies marriages (e.g. Clark Kent and Lois Lane) may not be legal under current law. Since the Storm/Lyja marriage occurred in 1987, long before even same sex marriage was legalized anywhere in the United States, we feel even more comfortable asserting that a human/Skrull marriage would not be legal (again, assuming that the marriage laws on Earth 616 were the same in 1987 as they were in the real world).
Whether because a human/Skrull marriage is legally impossible or simply because Storm was tricked into marrying Lyja, Johnny would have no trouble getting out of the marriage. There might still be legal consequences, however. A question for any tax attorneys or accountants in the audience: if Johnny had filed his tax return as married/filing jointly and claimed the standard deduction, would he have to repay any tax if the marriage was later declared void? If so, could he seek compensation from Lyja?