If you have learned that your spouse cheated on you with someone else, you might feel devastated and unsure of how to handle the situation. Infidelity is a leading reason for divorce because of the violation of trust involved. Unfaithfulness can cause intense feelings of betrayal, anger, sadness, and a breakdown in your marriage. Depending on your situation, you might want to get an annulment based on what your spouse did instead of a divorce to erase the marriage instead of ending it in a divorce.
To understand whether an annulment is possible based on your spouse's infidelity, it is important to understand the differences between an annulment and divorce. Here's some information you should know from a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group LLC.
What Is an Annulment?
An annulment is a declaration that a marriage is void. When an annulment is granted, the courts treat the marriage as if it had never existed since it legally should not have. While divorce and annulment both end marriages and allow the individual spouses to return to being single, there are differences between how annulment and divorce work and when they are allowed. Annulment cancels a marriage so that it is legally and completely erased. By contrast, courts recognize the former marriages of divorced people. Through the divorce process, your marital assets will be divided, and you can pursue alimony if necessary. The process is different with an annulment.
It is more difficult to get an annulment than it is to get a divorce. Before your marriage can be annulled by the court, you will be required to prove that you have valid grounds for an annulment. Infidelity is not recognized as one of the grounds for annulment. However, if specific extenuating circumstances exist, your spouse's infidelity might be part of a recognized ground for annulment. For example, if your spouse was cheating on you with their paramour, and the paramour was already pregnant before your marriage, the misrepresentation of your spouse's status at the time of your marriage might form the basis of a valid ground for annulment. Similarly, if your spouse was already secretly married to their affair partner before your marriage, you would have a valid reason to request an annulment.
Difference Between Annulment and Divorce
Divorces and annulments are both ways to legally terminate a marriage. Divorce involves a legal process that ends a legal marriage and separates the marital assets accumulated by a couple. A divorce ends the marital contract, and when people get divorced, they are free to marry other people. By contrast, an annulment cancels the marriage based on grounds that it was not valid to begin with. Since the marriage is treated as if it didn't exist, the spouses will not have the right to have the court separate their assets. Following an annulment, both parties will be single and free to marry others. They also will be treated as if their marriage never existed.
Annulment: Void and Voidable Marriages
New Jersey law outlines specific grounds for the annulment of a marriage in N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-1. This statute provides that you can only receive an annulment when a court determines your marriage was either void or voidable. A void marriage is one that automatically qualifies for annulment because it was illegal. For example, if you got married without knowing that your spouse was still married to someone else, your marriage would qualify as a void marriage and be eligible for annulment based on the crime of bigamy committed by your spouse. Voidable marriages are those for which there are legal reasons for the court to grant an annulment, but they won't be automatically annulled unless one of the spouses asks for annulment and presents evidence proving the ground for which they are seeking it.
Statutory Grounds for Annulment
Under New Jersey's annulment statute, there are several grounds for which someone can have their marriage annulled. However, it is much harder to obtain an annulment than a divorce because you will be required to prove specific circumstances to show the court that your marriage was not legally valid. The legal grounds for annulment in New Jersey are discussed below.
The grounds for void marriages exist when the marriage wasn't legal to begin with and include bigamy, incest, and the legal incapacity to consent.
Bigamy is a crime in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. § 2C:24-1. A person commits the crime of bigamy when they enter into marriage while they are still legally married to someone else. Bigamy is a disorderly person's offense in New Jersey that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Since a bigamous marriage is illegal, any subsequent marriage that occurs when a person is still legally married automatically qualifies for annulment as a void marriage. Similarly, people can get annulments based on bigamy when their spouse remained in a civil union or domestic partnership at the time of the marriage without dissolving the previous status.
Incestuous marriages are prohibited in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. § 37:1-1. This statute prohibits marriages between someone and any of the following related parties:
- First cousin
An incestuous marriage is automatically considered void.
Minor at the Time of the Marriage
Under N.J.S.A. § 37:1-6, it is illegal to issue a marriage license to a minor younger than age 18. Because of this, a marriage in which one spouse was younger than age 18 at the time of the marriage, the marriage is considered void and automatically eligible for annulment.
There are several grounds through which people can obtain annulments by presenting proof that their marriages are voidable, including fraud, duress, impotence, and incapacity.
A spouse commits fraud at the time of marriage by misrepresenting the facts to the other spouse. For example, if your spouse lied about having children with someone else, told you they were pregnant with your child when that wasn't true, lied that they wanted to have children with you when they did not, or lied about their devotion to you when they were involved at the same time with someone else, you might have grounds to obtain an annulment. You will have stronger standing for an annulment based on fraud if you can show the court that you would not have otherwise married your spouse if you had known the truth.
If you married your spouse under duress or coercion when you did not want to get married, this is grounds to seek an annulment.
If your spouse was impotent at the time of your marriage and has continued to be impotent since that time, it can be grounds for annulment if your spouse failed to tell you. If your spouse refused or was unable to consummate your marriage, you might be able to secure an annulment.
A person can claim incapacity if one or both spouses were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they got married or were otherwise mentally unfit to enter into a legally binding contract. To obtain an annulment based on these grounds, you will need to present evidence of incapacity at the time of your marriage to the court.
Annulment Following a Spouse's Infidelity
If your spouse's infidelity is a part of one of the above-listed annulment grounds, you can ask the court for an annulment. However, you should consult a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group for help with this and to understand the types of evidence that might be required. Your lawyer will also help you understand whether an annulment or divorce might be a better solution for you under your circumstances.
When Can You Get an Annulment?
New Jersey doesn't have a waiting period to seek an annulment, and most requests for annulment are filed shortly after people get married. As long as you meet one of the legal grounds for annulment, you can file an annulment complaint with the Superior Court in the county in which you or your spouse resides. Courts in New Jersey are also allowed to grant annulments without cause when you make the request less than 30 days following your marriage ceremony. For example, if you discover your spouse cheating on you with your maid of honor following your wedding ceremony, you can ask for an annulment and will likely get it.
Speak With an Annulment and Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
If you want to end your marriage after learning that your spouse has been unfaithful, you should reach out to the Ziegler Law Group LLC to discuss whether an annulment or divorce makes more sense in your situation. Call us today for more information at 973-878-4373.
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