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Predatory Marriage: Families Back Marriage Law Change Demand

June 9, 2021

Families whose elderly relatives fell prey to so-called predatory marriages have backed calls for a change in the law.

The practice involves vulnerable adults being led into a marriage which financially benefits their new spouse.

Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton says hundreds of families have contacted him since he first raised the issue in Parliament in 2018.

He brought it up once again at Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked him for highlighting the “injustice” and said he would secure a meeting with the justice department as soon as possible.

‘Secret marriage’

Daphne Franks said her 91-year-old mum Joan Blass, who had dementia, was a victim.

Mrs Blass met Colman Folan, a man 24 years her junior, in 2011, the same year she was diagnosed with dementia.

He moved into her home a month later, but Ms Franks, from Gledhow, Leeds, said it was only when her mother died in 2016 that the family learned they had married.

“None of mum’s friends or family knew about the marriage. It was done in secret,” she said.

While the registrar believed Mrs Blass had the mental capacity to make the decision, Ms Franks said her mother’s dementia was too advanced for this to be the case.

“Mum struggled to remember her date of birth. She had no idea how old she was at her 90th birthday party 18 months earlier and she couldn’t remember her address,” she said.

“Who knows where she thought she was or what she thought she was doing when she got married.”

When Mrs Blass died, Mr Folan inherited all her property and possessions.

Under English law, the marriage revoked her previous will which left everything to her children.

“The secret marriage just destroyed that will as if it had never existed,” Ms Franks said.

“All the personal belongings in the house now belonged to him, including my wedding dress and my grandad’s letters from the first world war.

“It was just heartbreaking.’

The BBC has attempted to contact Mr Folan.

In a previous statement he said: “Mrs Blass wanted to marry me and I believed at the time, and still do, that she has capacity to make that decision for herself.”

Another family said their father was targeted by a “predator whose aim was solely to gain financial benefit”.

Kate, whose name has been changed, said her father, a widower, was vulnerable and taken advantage of when he remarried at the age 77.

She said her father died in 2018 and his wife went on to strip his bank accounts of £200,000.

Both families are backing Labour’s Mr Hamilton in his call for a clamp down on predatory marriages.

In 2018, the MP presented a private members’ bill on the issue to the House of Commons but has yet to meet the Registrar General to discuss changes.

He said: “It’s shocking that someone can be married without knowing the contract they’ve entered into or that they’ve married at all because of the dementia they’re suffering from.

“It’s about time we updated our marriage laws that date back to the 19th century and make sure that vulnerable individuals don’t find themselves in that position ever again.”

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