Annulment is an alternative to divorce in which a court concludes that a marriage is invalid. Unlike an actual divorce, in which a court legally terminates a marriage, an annulment determines that the marriage never existed in the first place. An annulment may be granted on only very limited grounds, including that one spouse was under the age of 18 or mentally incapacitated or intoxicated at the time of the marriage, that the marriage was obtained by fraud, inducement, or threats, or that one spouse was already married at the time. The state’s Superior Court recently took on an annulment case in which one spouse said his Wife married him for immigration purposes.
Husband filed for an annulment of his marriage to Wife in 2009, less than two years after the couple married. He asserted that Wife, a Chinese citizen, fraudulently entered into the marriage for the sole purpose of getting a green card. He said she never moved in with him after the wedding and stopped talking to him after she got the green card. Husband said he was not aware where Wife, who didn’t answer the annulment complaint, was currently living. He believed she had returned to China.
A trial court entered a default judgement granting the annulment when Wife failed to appear at a hearing on the matter. It wasn’t until about four years later that she finally showed up to court, this time asking that the default judgement be vacated. Wife claimed that she and Husband were visiting her family in China in 2009 when she was detained on embezzlement charges. Wife said that she was unable to return to the U.S. during her incarceration and that Chinese law barred her from communicating with people outside China in a foreign language during her incarceration.
Wife also submitted some photos of the couple together – a few of which were date stamped after they were married – as well as a living will that Husband executed two months before he filed for the annulment. In that document, Husband appointed Wife as his health care proxy. Husband, on the other hand, said he tried to locate Wife for a year before seeking the annulment. He also noted that he’d remarried after the marriage was nullified. A judge sided with Husband, finding that it would be inequitable to undo the annulment because Husband had remarried.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Superior Court said Wife’s motion to vacate the ruling was simply too late. Although a person has the right to seek to vacate a ruling based on fraud, mistake, or newly discovered evidence, state law requires that motion to be filed within one year. In this case, Wife waited four years. She also didn’t explain “when she was released from custody, when she found out that the judgment of nullity had been granted, and why it took her so long to file her motion,” according to the Court. The Court also said it was satisfied that Husband made a reasonable effort to find Wife and concluded that it did not want to undo his subsequent marriage.
The New Jersey divorce lawyers at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people whom we represent. Our offices are conveniently located in Whippany and New York City. We are happy to offer clients a free consultation in family law and other cases. Contact us online, call our New Jersey office at (973) 428-0800 or call our New York City office at (646) 213-9053 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys.