Predatory Marriage – A Concerned Relative Writes to The Guardian

Predatory Marriage

“The authorities can help, but you need to stay vigilant.”

We recently recorded a podcast on the subject of predatory marriage. This is where someone exploits an adult at risk, often with dementia. They isolate them from their family and coerce them into marriage. And due to UK laws, once the person dies the predator could be set to inherit everything, leaving their grieving family with nothing.

You can listen to our predatory marriage podcast here.

“A younger man has befriended my grandmother. I worry he’s a threat.”

Recently, a concerned relative wrote to Guardian Life and Style columnist :

I fear my 85-year-old grandmother is at risk. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago and lives alone in sheltered housing. She refuses to accept the diagnosis or any related assistance.

The story will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced predatory marriage:

Over the past year, a man in his late 50s has befriended her. He has been visiting her often and, in our eyes, become controlling. My grandmother trusts him entirely. Her relationship with her four children (my father and his siblings) has been strained at times over the years. However, the arrival of her new “friend” has coincided with her refusing to trust their judgment. This has caused a much greater rift, and we are worried that this man is easily able to manipulate someone in her position.

Social workers have confirmed that the grandmother is not at risk. The relative says they cannot go to the police, as the man has not committed any crimes. And crucially, their aunt and uncle have power of attorney. So if this is a case of predatory marriage, the predator may struggle to take full control of the grandmother’s assets.

So is this predatory marriage? Is this relative right to be worried?

Are there any signs of abuse?

In her response, Annalisa points out that the relative hasn’t specified just what danger they believe their grandmother’s in. But Annalisa assumes they’re worried about some kind of abuse. So she advises the relative to look out for any signs of abuse.

Much as we’d like this man’s friendship to be benign, the fact that you think it isn’t should be taken seriously.

Annalisa then points out that, even with a power of attorney in place, there could still be issues after the grandmother passes away:

It sounds as if your grandmother is widowed. If so, then she is at risk of predatory marriage. This wouldn’t overturn the existing LPAs, but it would mean that, on your grandmother’s death, he would inherit the first £270,000 and half of the rest of the estate. (A marriage revokes any pre-existing will.)

Preventing Predatory Marriage

Annalisa consulted professor in social work at the University of Nottingham, Rachael Clawson. Rachael has previously collaborated with ACT on the My Marriage My Choice project. She’s currently working with ACT on a study of predatory marriage. We are working to both raise the profile of the issue and seek to lobby for changes in the law.

Rachael proposes that registrars should be able to tell when someone may not have the capacity to agree to a marriage. She also believes that notices of forthcoming weddings should be published online.

But until the law changes, what can families do if they’re worried about predatory marriage? Rachael suggests:

If you have concerns, you should contact your local register office, and those in surrounding areas, to put a caveat in place to give notification for marriage. That way, the registrar has a note that there are concerns, and, if necessary, social services could be called in.

There’s a lot more good advice in Annalisa’s article. You can read it in full here.

Justice for Joan

You can learn more about predatory marriage on the Justice for Joan website, which also features a lot more information and advice for anyone who may be worried about a family member.

You can also read about an ongoing consultation on marriage laws on the Law Commission website. Find it here.

More recently Farrer & Co solicitors have produced a series of articles to raise awareness for this topic and highlight the call for reforms to the law. The latest article covers the prodromal areas of an illness where the person may have fluctuating capacity and may be at risk to exploitation.You can read the article A lasting legacy – a case for reform