Can an annulment be annulled in New York?

It is absolutely freezing in the Big Apple! But always so amazing to be here…
The other day I was speaking with another attorney from one of the top law firms in New York City. She was telling me about a fairly incredulous story of a dowager, a refined Jewish woman from Russia, who came in seeking to have an annulment annulled. Have you ever heard of this happening? That someone wants to annul an annulment? I certainly have never had such a case. It seemed crazy.
It seems after the dowager’s first husband’s untimely death, she remained single for nearly two decades and had resigned herself to being a widow until she met a young Russian-American man in Colorado named Romanov. At the time, she was 67 years old and he was 32.
The attorney said the dowager was careful to explain that she had married him not because he was so incredible in bed as everyone thought, but because of his impressive dossier. It seems he had presented himself to her as some sort of entrepreneur who had had a series of successful international businesses, and who had authored numerous international best selling books under various nom de plumes.
She married him because she had always wanted to marry a man with ambition. (Her first husband, while extremely wealthy had inherited all his wealth and was largely a man of leisure with no ambition whatsoever.) She wanted to help him. And she had the money to do it. So why not? They had several homes in the United States and Russia, including a condominium in some fancy hotel in Aspen and a town house in the East Seventies in New York.
It was, apparently, in Aspen, that she first discovered his proclivity for sexy, young college boys. One night, après ski, (it seems they were both avid skiers), while she was hobnobbing with other well to do regulars, he apparently slipped away to have a tete a tete with one of the busboys who later video-taped their fling (it was meant to be blackmail but her husband called the man’s bluff) and sent it to her as a Christmas present. She was bereft, of course, shamed, but he assured her that it was a mistake and that it would never happen again. Needless to say, she could barely keep him away from the bed of strapping dark haired young men. He threatened to leave, but apparently she did not want a divorce, so they worked out an arrangement where they would have a sort of “open” marriage.
The story went on to my bemusement, to some bizarre incident at the Berkley Hotel in Knightbridge London, and one of his apocryphal best sellers that finally led to her serving him a petition for annulment. Trust me when I say I cannot repeat any of it.
I had never heard such an incredible story, to tell you the truth. It sounded like a movie. I can barely go into the sordid details. Suffice to say, the entire story dovetailed to this woman approaching the attorney, to have this “annulment,” which she successfully obtained in another state on the basis of fraud (concealment of a material fact), annulled in New York.
There were a number of issues she had with the annulment – in which, by the way, she was the plaintiff. But her casus belli was the fact that right after having paid him a staggering seven figure sum, (they did not have a prenup), her beloved dear husband went right out and married another woman (ten years his junior and penniless), whom, it turns out, was pregnant with his child. And he confessed to the woman that, in fact, he was not gay, he had just acted like he was so that she would divorce him, and so that he could get the money and marry the woman he really loved. Well, the dowager was angry because she felt deceived, and she also felt robbed. While her husband had repeatedly refused to engage her sexually for years, he had been busy behind her back, getting another woman pregnant. Could this annulment be annulled on that basis she wanted to know?
Well, I wasn’t sure, quite frankly. So I turned to the attorney, a woman with infinitely more experience than I. “Could it,” I asked. “Can she annul the annulment on the basis that the grounds (concealment of material fact) were in fact inapplicable to their case since her husband was not really gay?”
Turns out there are some circumstances where the court will vacate a judgment of annulment. It is not clear whether under the preceding fact pattern the annulment could be vacated since neither party was pro se, and the dowager was the plaintiff, and she properly served the defendant. However, there are some circumstances that an annulment can be vacated in New York.
Originally published December 4, 2008