Explaining Zellweger's "Fraud" Claim

Actress says term is "simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny's character"

By Joal Ryan Sep 16, 2005 8:30 PMTags

When Renée Zellweger called Kenny Chesney a "fraud," she meant it only in the best way.

The Oscar-winning actress attempted to clarify Friday why her four-month marriage to the country singer all but ended this week when she filed for an annulment, citing "fraud."

In a statement, the Cold Mountain star called the term "simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny's character."

"Oh, I beg to differ," Glen L. Rabenn, a family law attorney based in Seal Beach, California, said with a laugh when read Zellweger's words. "What is it then? She's saying the guy is a fraud. Doesn't that go to character?"

Attorney John Mayoue, an Atlanta litigator who has represented the likes of Jane Fonda, called the "fraud" declaration "very unusual for a high-profile case."

"Most celebrities who have a public name to protect would not make this kind of public allegation," said Mayoue. "When famous people call us, we try to find a way under the radar, so to speak."

In California, where Zellweger filed, annulments are rare, seemingly by design, among the famous and non-famous. The state that invented the no-fault divorce is a stickler on annulments. "You've got to prove your grounds," Rabenn said. "You've got to go to court."

In Nevada, where Britney Spears ended her 55-hour union to childhood friend Jason Allen Alexander in 2004, a bride can annul her marriage simply by declaring, as the pop star did, that she "lacked understanding of her actions." But in California, the annulment seeker must declare one of the following: That he or she was under age; that one of the parties was already married; that someone was of "unsound mind"; that the marriage was entered into by "force"; that one of the parties suffered "physical incapacity"; or, that "fraud" had been perpetuated.

"Fraud is a very high standard," Mayoue said. "For a court to accept this for fraud, it's going to have to be a very egregious situation."

Under California law, a fraudulent marriage means, in part, "the consent of either party was obtained by fraud." In layman's terms, Rabenn explained a hypothetical case this way: A newlywed couple checks into a honeymoon suite; the husband pulls out a document declaring that he's impotent; the wife, previously unaware of this situation, checks out--and calls her lawyer.

To Rabenn, the big question in the Zellweger filing is "Why?"--as in: "Why did someone bother raising the fraud allegation?"

In a joint statement released to Entertainment Tonight, Zellweger and Chesney said "the miscommunication of this objective of their marriage at the start of is the only reason for this annulment."

Zellweger, 36, and Chesney, 37, wed May 9 in the Virgin Islands. While their courtship proceeded at light speed, they'd met just five months prior, the ceremony was not exactly impromptu. Family and friends were present; an official wedding photo released.

Whispers of their demise were heard as early as the summer. The bad buzz got louder last week when Zellweger walked the red carpet at the London premiere of Cinderella Man without Chesney, who'd finally wrapped the tour that had kept him on the road for much of their marriage.

"I would personally be very grateful for your support in refraining from drawing derogatory, hurtful, sensationalized or untrue conclusions," Zellweger said Friday. "We hope to experience this transition as privately as possible."

In his own statement, Chesney echoed Zellweger's sentiment. "I just hope everyone can respect the privacy I know Renee has already asked for," he said.

Rabenn said he would expect the couple to have the matter handled privately, complete with a private judge. "It's very likely you will never know about this," he said.