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Britney Spears, Annulment, and Mental Illness in New York

britney spears jason alexander marriage annulment annulledIn an effort to bring in blog traffic discuss the laws relating to having a marriage annulled in New York, it is worthwhile to bring up Britney Spears’ petition to annul her marriage signed just hours after her Las Vegas marriage. The couple tied the knot in a Las Vegas chapel Saturday morning, January 3, 2004 at 5 AM. She signed a petition to have the marriage annulled that same day, it was filed Monday morning, and a judge granted the annulment on Tuesday, January 6th. The marriage lasted about 55 hours. Las Vegas Review Journal.

The manager of Nevada Divorce and Paralegal Services said that an annulment makes it “like [the marriage] never happened in the first place.” This is not the case in New York. Here, under NY Domestic Relations Law § 7, the marriage is only void “from the time its nullity is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction,” meaning that the marriage was legally valid from the time it began until the court declares it null and void.

A judge may annul a marriage, even where the parties have children (see §§ 7 & 24), when either one of the parties meets any one of the following criteria:

  1. If a party is under age 18, then the judge may annul the marriage at his/her discretion, taking into account all of the facts and circumstances.
  2. If either party is mentally incapable of consenting to a marriage because he or she is unable to understand the consequences and significance of a marriage.
  3. If either party is physically and permanently incapable of entering into a marriage (i.e. having sexual relations). Sterility does not count.
  4. The marriage occurred through force, duress, or fraud. Fraud may be shown where one party conceals or misrepresents some fact so material to the essence of the marriage that the other party would not have entered the marriage had it known about that fact.
  5. One party has been mentally ill for five years or more before the marriage.

Britney Spears declared that the basis for her application for annulment was NRS 125.330, which allows annulment “for want of understanding.” This statute is worded very similar to New York’s, which allows annulment when “either of the parties to a marriage for want of understanding shall be incapable of assenting thereto.” New York’s law is almost the same allowing annulment when a party is “incapable of consenting to a marriage for want of understanding.” But Britney Spears said she was “incapable” of agreeing to the marriage because she and her new husband “did not know each others likes and dislikes, each others desires to have or not have children, and each others desires as to State of residency.”

I don’t think this would work in New York. Incapacity does not mean that one simply doesn’t yet know certain information about the person she is marrying. It means she is actually incapable, due to “mental illness or retardation,” of knowing what marriage really is, its significance and its consequences. Levine v. Dumbra, 604 N.Y.S.2d 207, 208 (2nd Dept. 1993). While some might claim, tongue in cheek, that Ms. Spears does suffer from some mental defect, it is doubtful that a court would find that she suffers from any actual mental illness that deprives her of the capacity to understand what marriage is. She may not have known her new husband’s favorite color, but this hardly rises to the level of incapacity to understand the nature of marriage itself.

If you need assistance with any matrimonial or family law matter, whether it be divorce, separation, child custody, annulment, adoption, or anything else, our office has over 30 years experience in these areas. So please contact our office by e-mail or call 800-344-6431 for help.

Picture courtesy of blog.canoe.ca.

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