Equitable Fraud: Family Law Case Of First Impression
- July 27, 2015
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In Easton v. Mercer, a case of first impression in New Jersey family law, a judge has ruled that a marriage can be annulled on the grounds of equitable fraud when the evidence presented suggests that annulment, as opposed to a traditional divorce, presents the most equitable remedy for the parties. According to Ocean County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones, his ruling allows judges to nullify marriages without evidence of actual fraud. “[E]quitable fraud is a concept that permits a court of equity to act in the name of fairness,” Judge Jones was quoted as saying. “The doctrine does not require an intent to deceive, and the granting of relief is designed not to punish a defendant for intentional fraud or wrongdoing, but rather to assist an innocent plaintiff and render him or her whole through applicable equitable relief.” In the instant case, the couple married but never lived together, never consummated the marriage, and never financially supported each other. Directly after their marriage the Defendant continued to live in her parents’ house. Four years later, the Plaintiff sought an annulment based upon the doctrine of equitable fraud, but did not claim that there was actual fraud or deceit on the part of his wife. The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant committed fraud by bowing to her parents pressure to abandon him. He argued that if he had known that the Defendant was going to change her mind directly after the wedding, he never would have married her. The Defendant never challenged the Plaintiff’s request for an annulment, but Judge Jones could not automatically grant such relief. He could simply have granted a divorce, but granting an annulment presented a more complicated situation because the ruling essentially makes it as if the marriage never happened. According to Judge Jones, the nullity statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1, provides for grounds in which a marriage can be annulled. The language of the law allows for annulment when there has been “fraud to the essentials of the marriage,” although this phrase has never been defined. Ultimately, Judge Jones granted the annulment based upon the fact that the parties did not have any children, they never lived together, and had no financial interdependence. In fact, they never held themselves out to be married. Therefore, the case had few issues or impediments and the equitable result dictated that the annulment be granted. If that facts had been different perhaps the result would have been as well. If you are contemplating divorce, annulment, post-judgment modification or you would like more information regarding a family law issue you should seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about divorce, uncontested divorce, equitable distribution, child support, alimony or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.