The plaintiff, Hitesh Patel, has filed a two count complaint seeking an annulment, or in the alternative, a divorce. The defendant, Varsha Navitlal, filed an answer denying only those allegations in the first count which seek an annulment and admitting all allegations of the second count seeking a divorce predicated on the 18-month continuous separation grounds as contained in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-24.
In trial memorandum submitted prior to the taking of any testimony, plaintiff argues that the marriage should be annulled on the grounds that the defendant fraudulently induced plaintiff to
marry her solely to gain entry into the United States, offering as proof the concealment of a relationship between the defendant's mother and her paramour. Plaintiff's attorney relies on the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1(d), fraud as to the essentials of the marriage and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1(f), the general equity jurisdiction of the Superior Court as legal support for his argument. On the other hand, defendant takes the position that the annulment should not be granted because the plaintiff was aware of any impediment to the marriage, the marriage was consummated, and any fraud perpetuated against the plaintiff must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In a pretrial conference, it was conceded by the attorney for the defendant that an annulment might affect the immigration status of the defendant who currently resides with her uncle in North Carolina.
Lying at the heart of this controversy, is the ethnic background of both parties and the social values of another culture. Both the plaintiff and defendant are Asian-Indians. The plaintiff is a naturalized citizen of the United States having resided in the City of Jersey City for eleven years. He is a highly educated individual with a masters degree in engineering.
By way of explanation, the plaintiff testified at trial that there currently exists a caste system in India. The plaintiff further testified that this caste system is predicated on factors such as heritage, religion, economic background and family location. According to plaintiff, in the Indian caste system, individuals occupy a certain status within a particular caste making them more or less desirable as a spouse. The defendant denied knowledge of such a caste system in India.
In the Spring of 1990, the plaintiff traveled to India and contacted a marriage broker for purposes of obtaining a wife of the same caste to live with him in the United States. This was the second marriage of the plaintiff through a marriage broker in India. Shortly thereafter and through the efforts of the marriage broker, the parties personally met twice to discuss marriage and the parties' respective backgrounds. Although from different
locations, the plaintiff was satisfied with the defendant as a prospective spouse. In discussing their parents, the defendant informed the plaintiff that her parents were living apart and in different locations. The plaintiff and the defendant married pursuant to a civil ceremony on June 8, 1990. The civil ceremony took the form of signing certain papers in the presence of one another. That night, the marriage was consummated at a hotel.
The plaintiff returned to the United States three days later and began the immigration process by filing a petition for the defendant's entry into the United States. During this period of time, there was continuous correspondence between the plaintiff and the defendant. On August 2, 1991, the defendant received her four-month visa. After the defendant received her visa, the correspondence became less frequent between the parties. The plaintiff testified that the defendant's conduct became suspicious because the defendant sought entry into the United States as soon as possible and because of the defendant's refusal to coordinate travel plans to the United States. The plaintiff admitted that he never purchased the means for transportation of the defendant to the United States at any time.
The plaintiff testified that the defendant insisted on a religious Hindu ceremony to be held in India. The defendant claims it was plaintiff who demanded and paid for the religious ceremony. This agreement was made prior to plaintiff's return to India.
In October, 1991, the plaintiff returned to India. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff learned that the defendant's mother was living with a person of a different caste while still married to her husband. Her husband resided in another city. The plaintiff testified that this intercaste relationship constitutes a violation of the caste system that has embarrassed both him and his family and had he known of it, he would not have married the defendant. Although the parties met twice before the civil ceremony, the plaintiff admittedly did not inquire as to the ...