Media portrayals of annulment have led to a significant amount of confusion about what an annulment involves and how it differs from a divorce. If you are wanting to end your marriage, you may or may not qualify for an annulment. Annulments are more difficult to get than a divorce, and a divorce might be a better option. Here's some information about an annulment vs. divorce from a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group LLC, with offices in Bergen and Essex County.
What Is an Annulment?
An annulment is a legal process through which a marriage can be ended. However, once an annulment is granted, the marriage will be treated as if it never existed. This means that an individual who has his/her marriage annulled would be viewed as single instead of divorced in the eyes of the law. Unlike divorce cases, however, annulments are only granted when specific grounds are met, and the annulment grounds are limited.
Grounds For Annulment in New Jersey
Marriages in New Jersey can be annulled if they are void or voidable. Void marriages are those that were illegal at the time the spouses married. Voidable marriages are those in which a circumstance existed at the time of the marriage that renders it unreasonable for the marriage to be recognized. For void marriages, courts must grant annulment petitions since they were illegal from the start. For voidable marriages, however, the court may or may not grant a complaint for annulment.
Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1, the Annulment grounds for void marriages in New Jersey include the following:
- When one spouse was married to another person or involved in a civil union or domestic partnership with someone else at the time of the marriage (bigamy)
- When the spouses are too closely related to marry in New Jersey (incest)
- When one spouse was younger than age 18 and too young to legally consent
Voidable marriages that might form the grounds for annulment include the following:
- One spouse used duress or coercion to convince the other into getting married
- One spouse is impotent, the other spouse did not learn about the impotence until after the marriage, and the marriage has not been consummated
- One spouse was too intoxicated or was otherwise of unsound mind and could not consent to the marriage
- One spouse engaged in fraud about a fundamental issue to induce the other spouse to get married
Some examples of fraud that might be grounds for annulment include the following:
- Intentionally concealing a criminal conviction for a serious crime
- Lying about wanting or not wanting to have children
- Misrepresenting the individual's financial circumstances
- Lying about a serious health condition
- Misrepresenting the person's religious beliefs
- Intentionally concealing the person's substance abuse
- Concealing the fact that the individual was pregnant by someone else
What Is Divorce in New Jersey?
Divorce is the second way to end a marriage. When a couple gets divorced, it doesn't mean that their marriage never existed. Instead, their marriage will still be recognized, but it will be terminated.
Grounds for a Divorce in New Jersey
People can pursue divorce based on fault or no-fault grounds. Fault-based divorces require the petitioner to prove fault, which can make them more difficult than no-fault divorces. Fault-based divorces are those in which one spouse wants to prove the other spouse engaged in some type of misconduct, including one of the following:
- Extreme cruelty
- Abandonment for 12 or more months
- Institutionalization for a mental illness for two or more years
- Drug or alcohol addiction for 12 or more months
- Incarceration for 18 or more months
- Deviant sexual acts without the spouse's consent
There are two types of no-fault divorce in New Jersey. You can pursue a no-fault divorce if you and your spouse have lived separately for 18 or more months. Alternatively, you can file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences that have lasted for six or more months.
Pursuing a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences requires a much lower burden of proof than getting a fault-based divorce or an annulment since you won't have to prove your spouse's misconduct or that an annulment ground existed.
If you want to claim irreconcilable differences in your divorce complaint, you will need to meet the following criteria:
- You or your spouse has resided in the Garden State for 12 or more months
- The irreconcilable differences have existed for at least six months
- Reconciliation between you and your spouse is very unlikely
When You Must Seek Annulment
Depending on the ground for annulment, you might have to file a complaint within a specific time or lose your right to do so. For example, if your spouse was impotent when you got married but later recovered and consummated your marriage, you won't be able to get an annulment based on impotence. Similarly, if you continued with your marriage for some time after you uncovered your spouse's fraud, you won't be able to get an annulment.
When a Divorce Might Be a Better Choice
Since an annulment treats a marriage as if it never existed, you won't have the same property division rights in an annulment as you would in a divorce. If you and your spouse accumulated assets or debts while you were married, an annulment will treat each of your assets and debts as your own instead of distributing them equitably. By contrast, in a divorce, all assets and debts acquired during the marriage by either of you will be fairly divided. Similarly, if you want to seek alimony, getting divorced might be the better choice.
Consult a Divorce Lawyer in NJ
If you believe you might qualify for an annulment and want to determine whether pursuing an annulment versus a divorce is a better option in your case, reach out to an NJ divorce attorney at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC with offices in Bergen ad Essex County. We can help you understand which might be the better option under your circumstances and advise you on your next steps. Call us today for a case evaluation at (973) 878-4373.
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