In response to the divorce petition filed by Kim Kardashian, on December 1, 2011, the lawyer for Kris Humphries filed his response and included a request for a declaration of “nullity of marriage” or what is commonly known as an annulment. Humphries’ filing, in the Superior Court of California, claims that Kim Kardashian fraudulently induced him to marry her. Many people have asked:
- What is the legal difference between a divorce and an annulment; and
- Why would Humphries seek an annulment as opposed to simply seeking a divorce.
The grounds for an annulment are much more limited and restrictive than the grounds for a divorce and Kris Humphries could certainly seek a divorce or consent to Kim Kardashian’s divorce, so why would he want to annul the marriage? The reason stems the fundamental difference between a divorce and an annulment. A divorce serves to “dissolve” a marriage, meaning that it terminates the parties’ married status. An annulment is a declaration by the court that the marriage never occurred. Basically, a divorce ends a marriage while an annulment says that the parties were never married.
So what though?
Allegedly, the prenuptial agreement (also known as a prenup or antenuptial agreement) signed by Kim and Kris contains extensive confidentiality provisions, stating that should the parties divorce, Humphries is prohibited from discussing the marriage or divorce. If the parties divorce, the prenuptial agreement would govern many of the rights and obligations of the parties after the marriage is terminated but, if the marriage is annulled, it is likely that the prenuptial agreement would not govern. As a result, if Kim and Kris divorce, the prenup would prevent Humphries from discussing his marriage and divorce but, if the marriage is annulled, he would be free to talk about (and perhaps profit from) the relationship.
In the end, the attempt to annul the marriage is a likely strategic maneuver designed to give Humphries the freedom to disregard the prenuptial agreement and, if he chooses, openly discuss the relationship.
In New York, even though the legislature has recently enacted what is commonly known as “no-fault divorce” a party must still assert grounds for divorce. According to New York’s Domestic Relations Law §170, grounds include:
- cruel and inhuman treatment;
- abandonment for one or more years;
- imprisonment for three or more years;
- written contract of separation and living apart one or more years;
- court judgment of separation and living apart one or more years;
- the relationship between husband and wife has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months (commonly known no-fault divorce).
On the other hand, according to New York’s Domestic Relations Law §140, a marriage can be annulled on the following grounds:
- Former husband or wife living (one of the parties to the alleged second marriage was married to another person at the time of the second marriage);
- Party under the age of consent (too young to marry);
- Party a mentally disabled person or mentally ill person;
- Physical incapacity;
- Consent by force, duress or fraud;
- Incurable mental illness for five years.