Our New Jersey family and divorce law attorneys often receive inquires about annulment in NJ, but we find that many people misunderstand the requirements for seeking annulments as well as the function of an annulment. Many prospective clients are misled by the popular myth that annulment is a frequently granted way to terminate a marriage of extremely short duration. While annulment usually is associated with marriages of short duration, there are very limited grounds for granting a NJ annulment. Because there is so much confusion about annulment, we have provided an overview of the annulment process that distinguishes it from other forms of relief, such as divorce or legal separation under NJ divorce law.
Annulment vs. Divorce vs. Separation
While all three of these terms refer to a way to terminate a relationship, they have different legal consequences. When considering divorce vs. separation, divorce results in termination of marital status so that the parties are no longer legally married. Although a divorce (formally referred to as “dissolution of marriage”) requires filing a complaint, legal separation does not require the formal initiation of a court action. If you wish to legally separate from your spouse in NJ, you can simply live apart and enter into a legal separation agreement on issues, such as child custody & visitation, division of property, child support and other issues that would be addressed in a NJ divorce. Legal separation provides a means to leave the door open if you and your spouse decide to reconcile because marital status is not impacted.
Annulment does not technically “end” a marriage but instead essentially provides a formal acknowledgement that the marriage never legal existed. There are several reasons that annulment may be preferable to a divorce. Some people do not wish to seek a divorce because they are worried about acting in a way that is counter to their religious beliefs, or they have concerns about the social stigma that some associate with divorce. Annulment may be a means of addressing these issues. There is also less of a chance the court will award alimony in an annulment.
Legal Justifications for Seeking Annulments in NJ
Although the concept of an annulment may be appealing to some, the grounds for seeking this form of relief under NJ divorce law are extremely limited. Essentially, this form of relief is only granted if one of the parties has committed a form of misrepresentation or fraud that strikes at the very essence of the marital relationship. The permissible legal grounds for an annulment include:
- Bigamy: If one of the parties is still legally married to someone else, such as where a divorce is never finalized, this may be the basis for requesting an annulment.
- Lack of Capacity: If a party lacks the mental ability to provide informed consent to a marriage, this may justify an annulment. The most common scenarios where this may arise involve a party that is impaired by an intoxicating substance or that is suffering from a mental illness.
- Insufficient Age to Marry: Under NJ divorce law, any party must be 18 to legally enter into marriage so a marriage may be annulled if one of the parties is too young to lawfully enter into a marital relationship.
- Incest: A marriage may be annulled when the parties are too closely related by blood to lawfully marry.
- Duress: If you marry under a threat of serious violence against you or someone else, this can constitute a basis for annulment.
- Impotence: If a spouse is unable to consummate the marriage, impotent or unable to conceive a child and knowingly hides this information, this may be a basis for seeking to annul the marriage.
- Fraud: When either spouse makes a material misrepresentation that fundamentally impact the marital relationship this may constitute fraud and justify annulment. Examples might include misrepresentations about substance abuse, desire for children, intent to marry to adjust immigration status, pregnancy by another man when entering marriage and other fundamental forms of deceit or non-disclosure that have a significant impact on the decision to marry.