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While accidentally marrying a criminal sounds more like the subject of TV drama (or comedy) than a real life occurrence, it does happen in real life. Unfortunately, even when a person marries a criminal on accident, there could be real life consequences. Most often, legal consequences for uninvolved spouses stem from organized, or white-collar, criminal activities.
For instance, spouses that agree to put things in their names, or sign checks, or take other relatively passive roles, can find themselves looking at actual jail time. Alternatively, spouses that merely reap the financial benefits, completely passively, without being involved at all, can usually expect to minimally have those benefits seized and forfeited.
Here are three legal tips on what to do if you accidentally marry a criminal:
1. Annulment May Be Possible
If you were tricked into the marriage, you may be able to qualify for an annulment based upon fraud. Unlike a divorce, an annulment will dissolve a marriage and treat it like it never happened. There may be some complicated issues when it comes to separating joint property, but it could potentially protect an innocent spouse from liability.
State laws differ about how and when a person will qualify for an annulment, but generally state laws require a showing that the innocent spouse materially relied on a significant misrepresentation in agreeing to marry. If an annulment isn't possible, divorce or legal separation can be pursued.
2. Consult and Retain an Independent Attorney
So long as you are not actively involved in the criminal enterprise, you can consult with an attorney on how to keep on the right side of the law. Depending on your situation, this may involve legal separation, divorce, annulment, or maybe not.
If you get involved with the criminal enterprise, an attorney will not be able to assist you in continuing to break the law, but may be able to help keep you out of trouble if you are arrested. It is also important to retain your own attorney, rather than rely on joint representation, particularly for a spouse that is not actively engaged.
3. Maintain Separate Accounts
Maintaining sufficient separation of financial accounts may not be possible if the criminal enterprise is the sole source of income. However, if there are premarital assets, or you earn legitimate income, these should be maintained separately and diligently tracked. In the event that a criminal prosecution occurs against the criminal spouse, depending on the jurisdiction, being able to trace separate legitimate income may be what prevents it from being seized by the authorities.