Warning: This post contains spoilers from the finale of Love Is Blind.
If love isn’t blind, can it be annulled?
That’s the question we had once we finished binging our way through Netflix’s addictive new reality dating show, Love Is Blind. Left wondering if the marriages between Cameron and Lauren and Amber and Barnett would go the distance and what would happen if they immediately decided the next day that they had made a mistake, we reached out to Norman Heller (of Blank Rome LLP) — one of New York’s top matrimonial lawyers who regularly represents the rich and famous — to ask him for the lowdown on dissolving a mistake marriage.
How easy or difficult is it to annul a rushed wedding that you, perhaps, instantly regret?
I’m going to talk about it New York-centric because annulments are treated differently in every state. There’s no one set rule. It’s the same for divorce. So I know two states: I know Connecticut where I practice and I know New York. In New York annulments are a disfavored form of judicial relief to end a marriage. You could say that’s true probably elsewhere too. The reason it’s a disfavored view, is that the people were validly married. There was a priest or rabbi or justice of the peace or they went to the town hall, right? So they were married. An annulment doesn’t just end the marriage or dissolve a marriage as a divorce does, an annulment is a judicial declaration that, in effect, the marriage never happened. It’s like you’re retroactively canceling a marriage and so that is not something they want to do. So the judges, say, “Hey, look, if you want to end the marriage, get divorced.” It’s going to be a rare subset of cases where we’re going to declare, as a matter of policy, that the marriage never happened. Because, it’s as if it never happened — that’s what an annulment is.
Got it — annulments are pretty rare. What are some instances where people might be granted one?
So, in New York, you’d have to show… You can’t just say, “We got married on a Sunday and Monday, we realized it was a terrible mistake and we want to annul the marriage.” That’s not grounds for annulling a marriage. You have to have, in general, some impediment. Let’s say, it turns out the husband was incapable of having sex and he hid that from the wife. That’s rare, obviously. Or you could have fraud. You see some annulments where fraud is alleged. There was one I just saw where there was a record of emails between the husband and wife. He actually lived in Africa. She was an American and she was communicating by email with this guy and she said, “I’m only going to marry you — he was Muslim — if you convert to Christianity.” He promised her that he had converted to Christianity and then she went over there and they got married in a civil ceremony, they came back to the U.S. and then it turns out that he says, “Oh, no, I never converted. I’m not going to be a Christian.” This is a recent decision in Connecticut. And so the judge said, “Hey, you can tell by the email communications between them that his being a Christian was fundamental to the marriage. So I’m going to grant her application for an annulment because that was true fraud.” She made it ultra clear and there was confirmation and the standard of proof in Connecticut is by clear and convincing evidence. In New York, the same situation would also be fraud. The allegations to obtain an annulment have to be corroborated in New York. So in this case, if the wife had just said, “Hey, he lied to me about becoming Christian” and the husband says he didn’t, you would need other witnesses or other evidence to corroborate because, again, of the disfavored status of annulment in New York.
So say I’m on a reality TV show and I get married and then the next day I’m like, Whoa, terrible decision, Ruthie. I totally just did this for the cameras. What are my options? I wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on in terms of an annulment, right?
I don’t think so because if it was an actual intent by each of the parties to get married and they were standing in front of a rabbi or a priest or they were in the town hall and there was a public official. If they really intended to get married and the witness was there and they were married in accordance with the local law then, yes, if you decide the next day that was a mistake, that’s a divorce. Retroactively thinking, even right away, Hey, this was a mistake, doesn’t make a difference. Sometimes, you’ll see people will say, “Hey, look, we’re going to have a marriage ceremony, but there was no intent to get married.” I’ve seen that in various contexts. If there’s no intent to get married and you go through it, then there’s no marriage — even though you performed the ceremony.
So if the officiant wasn’t actually performing anything legally binding, it would essentially just be for the cameras and not count?
Yeah, exactly. If it was just two actors they’re obviously not actually getting married. It’s totally clear, including to the person who is officiating, that it’s not a bonafide. It’s not a wedding because there was no present declaration at that point to get married.
Have you ever seen a case where contestants on a reality dating show have tried to annul a marriage right after the wedding?
I haven’t. I have not seen a reality show contestant try to do that. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened but my guess is that if that had happened in New York or Connecticut, I would’ve seen it. It would’ve made some news because annulments are unusual. They’re very rare.
If hypothetically someone did try to annul a marriage from a reality TV show, what do you think they’d use as their grounds to try and have one granted?
What happens is, the wife would say, “Before we got married, my husband promised me that we could have children and here’s my cousin Joe Smith, who was there at a family gathering, and can confirm that my husband said we’re going to have children. Then, after we got married, he said, ‘You know what, I never intended to have children.'” Not that he’s changed his mind, because that’s not a fraud, but that he never intended to. He just said that to get her to marry him. If you have someone who heard that, that’s corroboration and you can get it annulled. So that’s what they would probably allege, but you’d have to have witnesses who actually heard that — so that’s extremely rare.
Okay, so say I got married on this reality show in Georgia but I live in New York, would I have to file for the annulment in Georgia or New York state?
So if they got married in Georgia, but they’re both residents of New York state and then after they’re married they come back to New York, I would think that the annulment would be governed by New York law because that’s where they’re residents. You can get married anywhere — Hawaii, France, wherever. In New York, it doesn’t really matter where you get married, it’s where you’re living at the time of the divorce or annulment. If they’re only married for a weekend, in New York, you would not have jurisdiction to grant either a divorce or an annulment, because for divorce in New York for no fault, you’d have to say it has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage for six months or more. So if you were trying to get divorced after a day, you’d have to use one of the old grounds, which would be adultery or cruel and inhuman treatment and so forth. As a practical matter, you probably couldn’t even get divorced if he wanted to a few days later.
So what if we got married in Georgia, and I’m from New York but he’s from Georgia. Does it matter which state you file in?
Okay, so the wife lives in New York, he lives in Georgia and they get married over the weekend in Georgia. Then, a couple of days later, the wife or husband says, “You know what, I don’t want to be married to this person.” So, in New York you still have that same six-month rule unless you were going to prove cruel and inhuman treatment and how are you going to prove that in a day or two? So either state, either Georgia or New York, would have the grounds to grant a divorce. What you have there, is called a divisible marriage, meaning you could separate the grounds for divorce — cruel and human treatment, irretrievable breakdown of marriage — from any financial issues. So, just to get divorced, you can do it in either state, once you register residency requirement.
We hope we helped, married-reality-show contestants of the world!
Love Is Blind is streaming now on Netflix.