Melissa Cooper and Christopher Ned Kelley had a child together in 2000. In 2004, Kelley proposed and gave Cooper a ring valued at approximately $10,000.
Cooper then discovered that Kelley cheated on her with a woman he was seeing before he proposed to her. Cooper took Kelley back when he promised he would be faithful to her.
But Cooper was forced to face reality when she learned Kelley was seeing another woman in 2011.
Cooper ordered Kelley to move out and take their child and another child from a previous relationship with him.
Cooper sued Kelley for fraud and breach of promise. The trial court ruled in Cooper’s favor, awarding damages and attorneys’ fees totaling $50,000.
Kelley appealed the ruling on the grounds that they lived together in a sexual union as part of a “meretricious relationship.”
A meretricious relationship is a financial agreement to cohabit in exchange for sexual services.
Kelley argued that he “never initiated the concept of marriage with her, outside of giving her that ring” and “I never said the words ‘will you marry me’ to her.”
But the state Court of Appeals upheld the decision in favor of Cooper.
Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote for the majority:
“Kelley has not cited any cases, nor has our research uncovered one, where the meretricious relationship defense was asserted or upheld in response to a claim of breach of promise to marry,” she added. “We therefore conclude that the fact that the parties lived together both before and after the marriage proposal is only collateral to the promise to marry.”
On the issue of fraud, the court ruled that, by Kelley’s own admission, he never intended to marry her. Like most men, Kelley was simply using Cooper to cook, clean and babysit his children, while he sowed his wild oats around town.
“This testimony, when juxtaposed with Cooper’s testimony about the proposal and her acceptance, can be construed as an admission that Kelley never intended to marry Cooper,” Branch wrote.
The court also upheld the damages that were awarded to Cooper for loss of income due to stress.
“Cooper testified that she was devastated by Kelley’s fraud and breach of promise to marry and that she quit her job to raise the couple’s children in reliance on the promise,” Branch wrote.
But it wasn’t a total loss for Kelley. Two judges — both men — gave dissenting opinions.
“The evidence did not show that Kelley lacked the intent to perform at the time he proposed to Cooper,” Chief Judge Herbert Phipps wrote. “Notably, Cooper admitted that there was a time after the proposal when she too had a ‘relationship’ with someone else. A finding of fraud cannot be sustained upon these facts, and in my view, Kelley is entitled to a new trial on that claim.”
Phipps was joined by Judge John Ellington.