What is an Annulment? How Does It Differ From Divorce in NJ?

What is an Annulment? How Does It Differ From Divorce in NJ?

Most people in New Jersey who want to end their marriages seek to do so by pursuing a divorce. However, a second option to legally end a marriage is an annulment. While both processes end a marriage, there are distinct differences between them. The main difference between an annulment and a divorce is the impact of these processes. While a divorce provides a legal mechanism to dissolve valid marriages, annulment is a formal declaration that a marriage was not valid from the beginning and treats it as if it never existed. Here is some information about an annulment and how it differs from a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group.

What Is an Annulment vs. Divorce?

A divorce is a legal process through which a valid marriage is dissolved and terminated. During the divorce process, the marital assets both spouses have accumulated while they were married are divided between them. Debts are also divided, and the court will enter orders that sever the couple's finances. During a divorce, the spouses can also seek orders to resolve other issues, including custody, child support, visitation, and alimony.

An annulment is a legal decision that effectively erases a marriage by declaring it void. This process is used to dissolve marriages that are void or voidable under the law. When an annulment request is granted, the spouses also won't be able to seek a distribution of the property and debts from the marriage or alimony. However, if they share children, a spouse can file a complaint in court for custody and child support orders.

Some religions also define annulment and divorce and discourage members from divorcing their spouses. For members of these religions, annulments might be a better choice. Religious annulments held within houses of worship do not legally dissolve marriages, however. This means that if you want your marriage to be dissolved, you will either need to get a divorce or an annulment in court. After you are divorced or have your marriage annulled, you will be considered single and will be free to marry someone else.

Grounds for Annulment

It is more difficult for people to obtain annulments than divorces. To get your marriage annulled, you will need to show the court you have one of the legally-recognized grounds for an annulment based on the fact that your marriage is void or voidable. The annulment grounds in New Jersey include the following:

  • Your decision to marry was made under duress or coercion.
  • You or your spouse were younger than 18 when you married.
  • You were intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or had a mental incapacity at the time of your marriage.
  • Your spouse was already married to someone else at the time you got married and committed bigamy.
  • Your marriage is incestuous.
  • Your spouse lied about or concealed a major issue that would have made you choose not to marry, such as having children, having a criminal record, substance abuse, or others.

Getting an annulment requires you to prove one of these grounds in court. Because of this, annulments are not very common as compared to divorces.

Both processes can involve lengthy legal proceedings and can be expensive. However, either an annulment or divorce can be fairly inexpensive and simple when both parties agree and do not have many disputes about the process.

Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey

New Jersey allows parties to seek divorces based on fault grounds or to instead pursue no-fault divorces. In a divorce, both parties agree that the marriage was legally valid, but one or both still wants to dissolve it.

While New Jersey allows spouses to pursue fault-based divorces, most couples choose to pursue no-fault divorces in the state. This is because a fault-based divorce requires the petitioner to prove the fault grounds to obtain the relief they are seeking. By contrast, a no-fault divorce doesn't require the spouse seeking the divorce to prove fault and is an easier process.

The fault grounds for divorce in New Jersey include the following:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment for 12 or more months
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Imprisonment of one spouse for 18 or more months
  • Commitment to a mental institution of one spouse for 24 or more months
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug addiction for 12 or more months
  • Deviant sexual conduct without consent

A no-fault divorce can be based on being separated from your spouse for 18 or more months or on irreconcilable differences that have existed for six or more months. Because of this, most couples choose to pursue divorce based on irreconcilable differences.


An annulment doesn't have a waiting period and can be filed at any time in New Jersey as long as one of the previously listed grounds apply. In most cases, people request annulments shortly after they get married.

Pursuing a divorce based on irreconcilable differences requires the differences to have existed for at least six months. If the marriage is shorter than that, the couple might need to wait until the six-month mark to file a divorce complaint.

Effects of an Annulment vs. Divorce

Following an annulment, the marriage is considered to have never happened. By contrast, former spouses might still have legal obligations to one another following a divorce such as to divide shared property or pay alimony.

During a divorce, New Jersey courts equitably divide the couple's marital assets, debts, and property between them. Each spouse will be entitled to receive a portion of the assets and property, and one or both may be responsible for repaying the debts. Since the parties in an annulment are considered to never have been involved in a valid marriage, they do not have these same rights and will instead go back to the same financial state each was in before the marriage.

If a couple shares children, the court will issue custody and support orders in either a divorce or annulment. Children are entitled to be supported by both parents even if their parents were in an invalid marriage.

Alimony is a type of spousal support paid by one spouse to the other following a divorce to help the lower-earning spouse meet their financial needs. Since alimony is only available in divorces, a spouse seeking an annulment can't ask for alimony in the process.

After an annulment, the spouses will be considered single and free to marry others. Following a divorce, the spouses will be considered to be single, divorced people and can also marry other people.

Why Would Someone Seek an Annulment Instead of a Divorce?

People might pursue annulments instead of divorce for a few different reasons. In the past, divorces carried a significant social stigma. While this is no longer true, some people don't want to have any stigma attached to being divorced and might instead pursue an annulment.

Some religions also have guidelines in place that discourage members from getting divorced. Some people choose to get their marriages annulled instead of divorcing to follow their religious guidelines and retain the right to marry again within their churches.

Finally, since annulments don't divide property, some people choose annulment over divorce because of not having to deal with as many issues. Since an annulment extinguishes the marriage, the person with more property might choose an annulment to retain their property rights and not have to divide their assets.

Talk to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey

If you want to end your marriage and are unsure of which process to pursue, you should meet with an annulment and divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group. Call us today to discuss your situation at 973-878-4373.

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