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Is “Secret Double Life” Grounds for Annulment in New Jersey?

Couple facing away

The recent public unraveling of a storybook marriage between a millionaire surgeon and a beauty queen hinges largely on allegations the wife committed fraud by concealing not only her level of education but the fact that she was reportedly providing high-priced escort services before and during the union. Her husband sought to void the marriage on grounds of fraud.

Declaring a marriage void is better known as annulment. As a longtime Somerset divorce attorney, I recognize annulment is a subject matter about which there are many misconceptions. In consultations, I’ve had to explain that the duration of a marriage isn’t the deciding factor as to whether annulment is the appropriate course of action (though many annulled marriages are short). Rather the law asks whether the marriage was legal in the first place.

Annulment in New Jersey has its pros and cons, depending on the specifics of your situation. Consulting with a family law attorney will provide you with the best insight into whether annulment makes the most sense.

One ground for annulment may be “fraud in the inducement” to marry. In other words, if your spouse intentionally lied to you, hid information, or was otherwise “leading a double life” for the purpose of inducing you to marry, then you might qualify for an annulment.

In the case of the surgeon and the beauty queen, the two were married four years. It was reported the pair reached a divorce settlement within days of the doctor’s submission of a 264-page filing - just before the first public hearing was scheduled to take place. Even if annulment of this four-year marriage could have been fairly argued, it’s plausible the surgeon’s divorce lawyers instead opted to use evidence of this purported fraud as leverage to gain a speedy and advantageous divorce settlement.

What is an Annulment?

Simply put, an annulment is a judgment issued by the Court indicating your marriage never existed. Although annulments typically happen after very short marriages, that’s not always the case.

While state law in New Jersey provides for no-fault divorce by those citing irreconcilable differences, N.J. Rev State 2A:34-1 provides for only six circumstances under which one can obtain an annulment of marriage. These include:

  • Bigamy. One of you was married to someone else during your marriage.
  • Incest. New Jersey law prohibits anyone from marrying his or her parent, child, brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle.
  • Incurable impotence. In this case, the person seeking annulment would have to show he/she didn’t know about this fact at the time of marriage and didn’t ratify the marriage.
  • Incapacity. This is usually when two people get married on a whim while intoxicated, but it may also apply to some adults with certain cognitive disabilities, etc.
  • Fraud. This is a material misrepresentation that affects the marriage and can result in a New Jersey annulment.
  • Duress. This is when one party only agreed to marry because of the threat of serious harm or violence.
  • Age. You were under 18 at the time of the marriage and didn’t have the proper consent from the Court.

When an annulment occurs, no property is split, no debt is divided and no alimony is awarded. It’s as if the marriage never happened. It can be advantageous for the higher-earning party.

There can also be religious benefits to annulment versus divorce, particularly within the Catholic church. However, even in some cases where legal annulment isn’t an option, you may be able to obtain an annulment from a religious authority. For example, a “Catholic annulment” would go through the parish or archdiocese and, if approved, would have the effect of two people having never been married in the sacramental sense.

Whether you are considering annulment or divorce, it is imperative to consult with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney who can advise you on your best course of action.

Contact our Somerset County divorce lawyers today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.