Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Should I Get an Annulment? Or a Divorce?

In certain situations, it makes more sense to seek an annulment versus a divorce.

An annulment action in New York State is lawsuit filed in court seeking to dissolve a marriage on the ground that the marriage is voidable by court order based on certain grounds.

What is the effect of an annulment?

The main effect is that the parties may consider themselves to have not been married. In other words, they can truthfully say, "I was never married". There can still be custody and child support orders if there are minor children born during the marriage. There will not be an order of support. In addition, the Court can makes orders to distribute property.

What is the difference between annulment and divorce?

  • An order of annulment means that one party has established that the marriage is not legally valid. A divorce, on the other hand, ends a legally valid marriage.
  • As mentioned above, the Court cannot order spousal support if the marriage is annulled. No marriage equals no spousal support.
  • The grounds for annulments are more difficult to establish than grounds for divorce. The process can be costlier and lengthier, but often it is worth it.

What are the grounds for annulment?

There are five grounds upon which a party to a marriage may seek to have the marriage annulled:
  • Under age of consent—If either or both parties to a marriage are under 18, that party, one of his or her parents or guardian (or any other person the court allows) may seek to have the marriage annulled. The right to seek annulment on this ground ceases once the spouse at issue has turned 18. Annulment on this ground is granted at the discretion of the court considering all the circumstances of the marriage.
  • Mental incapacity—If a party to a marriage is mentally ill or otherwise mentally incapacitated and was unable to give informed consent to the marriage, any relative with an interest in seeing the marriage annulled may do so while either spouse is alive.
  • Marriage Not Consummated—An action for annulment may be brought by either party before five years have elapsed from the date of marriage if one party has a continuing physical incapacity that causes that person to be unable to have sexual intercourse. The action may be brought by the non-impaired person, or even the impaired person, so long as that person did not know of his or her incapacity at the time of the marriage.
  • Force, duress, or fraud—An action for annulment may be brought by a party to a marriage who alleges that his or her consent to the marriage was obtained by force, duress, or fraud. Examples of fraudulent marriages include:
    • Marrying to obtain immigration status (green card);
    • Claiming to be pregnant to entice someone to marry;
    • Claiming you want to have children when you really don't.
  • Incurable mental illness for a period of five years or more—An action for annulment may be brought by either party to a marriage or anyone acting on his or her behalf where one party to the marriage has become incurably mentally ill, and the illness has persisted for five years or more.
My office offers a free consultation on these issues, and any other family law issue. Call (516) 773 8300, or Email:

Islamic Marriage Contracts and Divorce

An Islamic marriage contract can also be referred to asMehrieh” or “Mahr”. (Also known as Katb el-Kitab in Arabic and Nikah-Nama in Urdu.) A Mehrieh is a formal, binding contract considered an integral part of an Islamic marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom and bride or other parties involved in marriage proceedings.

I have encountered several legal issues involving Mehrieh agreements in my New York divorce practice, mostly with Iranian clients, but also clients from Egypt and Turkey. I have found that for the most part, Islamic marriage contracts are treated as prenuptial agreements in Court. In many Mehrieh agreements, the groom agrees to pay a sum of money to the bride upon her demand (often valued in terms of solid gold coins or other bank guaranteed currency). The Mehrieh often includes symbolic gifts such a mirror, a copy of the Koran, objects of silver, or a carpet.

Before the wedding (the “Aghd”), the groom and the bride’s father negotiate the Mehrieh, and it is signed before witnesses. In Sunni Islam, a marriage contract must have two male witnesses. In Shia Islam, witnesses to a marriage are deemed necessary, but in case they are not available, then the bride and groom may enter into the contract between themselves.

Upon the civil divorce, the Mehrieh will be enforced as a contract. As long as the contract is witnessed properly, it is usually enforced in New York Courts. Due to the very high price of gold coins recently, I have seen Mehrieh agreements that are worth close to a million dollars!

In Islam, in order to get a religious divorce, the parties must cooperate together and appear simultaneously before a religious tribunal to make a formal request. In the Islamic faith, the husband and wife must go to the mosque together. A portion of the Koran is read, and the religious divorce is granted officially. (The process for a Jewish divorce (a “Get”) is very similar.)

Even if there is a civil divorce that gets finalized through Judgment in the United States, without a religious divorce, an observant Islamic woman would not be able to remarry. Even worse, if a woman travels back to her native country, without having obtained her religious divorce, a husband can legally withhold permission for her (or her children) to leave the country. It can even subject the woman to penalties, even death, if there are charges of adultery against her. Therefore, it is critical to obtain both the civil and religious divorce.

For Muslims, to get a religious divorce that will be recognized in Iran, the parties must appear before an embassy, which creates a difficulty since the United States does not have an Iranian embassy. Therefore, the parties must appear at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC, which has an “Iranian Interests” department.

When it Comes to Engagement Rings, Size Does Matter

According to Daniel Clement, Esq., author of The New York Divorce Report, the size of your engagement ring could be a predictor of the success of your marriage!

His blog is based upon a study conducted by two economics professors at Emory University (

The study concluded that the higher the cost of the engagement ring, the shorter the marriage. They further found that less expensive rings were often associated with longer marriages. According to the study, men who spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on their engagement rings were more likely to get divorced than men who spent between $500 and $2,000. The wedding cost was also found to be predictive of the success of a marriage. A couple spending more than $20,000 on a wedding were over three times likely to get divorced than those who spent between $5,000 and $10,000.

What do you think?

Parental Alienation Destroys Children

This story is spreading throughout social media.....

A Judge in Michigan sent three children (ages 9, 10 and 15) to a juvenile detention facility, after finding them in contempt, for failing to maintain a "healthy relationship" with their father.

It is an outrageous ruling.  But the Judge called the case one of the worst examples of parental alienation she's ever seen.  Out of 46,000 cases!

Apparently, the children's parents have been in a divorce dispute since 2009.  Apparently, in 2010 the mother made allegations of domestic violence against the father, but those charges were thrown out.  Now, years later, the children are alleging fear of the father based on the mother's unfounded allegations.

Parental alienation is common in divorce disputes, where one parent has a motive to brainwash the children against the other parent.  In this case, the Court made a specific finding that the children were brainwashed by the mother.

"This situation is traumatic for everyone involved, and it is unfortunate that the children are in shelter care due to the actions of their mother," the statement from the father's lawyer said.

I have handled many alienation cases over the years.  They are extremely complicated, and are almost always characterized by years of bitter litigation.  Usually, a forensic psychological exam is required by a neutral expert appointed by the Court.  Sadly, even where alienation is shown, there are few remedies that can be employed to help the alienated parent or the children. The important thing is to address alienation early by court and therapuetic intervention -- to stop it in its tracks -- as soon as possible.

How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced?!?

This question is asked at virtually every consultation with a new client.  For some reason, people seem to underestimate how long the divorce process will take.

Clients are always surprised to hear that even the simplest, easiest, friendliest, "no fault" "out-of-court" divorce can take several months.

This is due to the fact that even after you reach a settlement, it takes the court system a long time to process the paperwork and finalize the decree.  Depending on the venue of the filing, the processing time can take between 3 months and 8 months.

A divorce is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you and your spouse do not see eye-to-eye on the issues of child custody and support, your divorce will take closer to one year to get resolved. (This is due to the lengthier negotiations that these issues often entail.)

If your case involves the issue of spousal support, or the valuation of a business, your divorce will take, on average, up to two years.  (This is due court proceedings, valuations and experts, which complicate and lengthen the timeline of the case.)

A contested custody case can also take up to two years.

In general, the longer the case takes, the more it will cost.
Keep these time frames into account and pace yourself accordingly.

For a free consultation, contact Jacqueline Harounian at

Friday, July 23, 2010

5 Top Steps to Take Prior to Commencing a Divorce

Written by: Jacqueline Harounian

A comprehensive checklist of steps to take to protect yourself financially before you hire a lawyer. If you gather together the required documents, and start creating an inventory of your assets, you will save a lot of time and money.

1 Protect your inheritance

While your client is deciding whether to file for a separation or divorce, they should take the following steps to protect their rights emotionally, financially, and legally. Clients should realize that their main objective is to preserve and protect marital assets, not dissipate them or grab them first. • If you received any monetary inheritance or gift (other than from your spouse) do not commingle it with marital monies. Keep it segregated and try to keep it intact. You may need it in the event of a separation.

2 Make copies of important documents

• Locate and make copies of: o the most recent income tax returns, including all schedules; o stock or bond certificates (regardless whether ownership is individual or joint); o savings account passbooks or statements; o money market fund or brokerage account statements; o checking account statements (and, if possible, the check stub register); o appraisals of real estate or tangible personal property (e.g., those made for insurance purposes); o loan applications and financial statements and wills or trust documents; o If your spouse owns a business, try to make a copy of all cash receipts for past three years.

3 Protect your household valuables and credit accounts

• Inventory contents of any jointly held safe deposit box, and household valuables such as silver, china, antiques, and objects d'art. • Try to establish personal credit relationships (gas credit cards, Dept. stores and National credit card companies such as Visa, MasterCard, etc.)

4 Open a separate bank account and safe deposit box
Open a bank account in your name at a bank where your spouse does not do business. Start depositing as much money as you can. If and when you do separate, you will need available funds. You will need to retain an attorney and may have other expenses which your spouse refuses to pay. He/She may even withhold support, which will place a financial burden on you until a motion can be brought and heard. • Obtain a safe deposit box at the same bank as your (new) personal bank account.

5 Other steps to protect yourself

• Make a list of return addresses of all mail received by your spouse from brokerage houses, banks, insurance companies and credit card issuers. • Have a medical and dental exam. If convenient, undergo any treatments you need or anticipate needing in the near future if they are covered under your spouse's insurance. • Keep a diary of relevant events, and prepare a detailed chronology of your marriage, relationship, purchase of major assets, refinances, birth of children, etc.
Additional Resources

The above Family Matters “Q & A” Newsletter question was answered by Jacqueline Harounian, a law partner at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C. You can reach Ms. Harounian at if you have any questions or would like additional information. You can also schedule an appointment for a free consultation at (516) 773-8300.
Wisselman Harounian & Associates, P.C.

Mediation versus Litigation

Mediation versus Litigation in Divorce Cases

Written by: Jacqueline Harounian

What are the benefits and limitations of each method? You may be surprised at the answers!

Explained by an experienced matrimonial litigator and professional mediator.

1 Mediation is the Best Starting Point for Many Couples
If you and your spouse have good communication together, and can agree to basic terms regarding custody and division of assets, you may want to consider mediation. A good mediator can help the two of you reach a full agreement regarding support and hep you understand the divorce process.

2 Mediation is a Waste of Time and Money for Certain Couples
If you and your spouse cannot communicate, or there are issues of domestic violence, mental health issues, drugs and alcohol, or child abuse, mediation is not advised. On the financial front, mediation has limitations in cases where there are cash income, a family business, hidden assets, or one party refuses to cooperate in producing documents. The mediator cannot make any orders, or compel disclosure. If one side stonewalls, the mediation will not be able to proceed.

Additional Resources
Check my website at for more information. We offer a free consultation to see if you are a candidate for mediation. The couple must come in together for the intake meeting. Call 516 773 8300 or email for more information.
Wisselman Harounian & Associates PC