What is Annulment and how does it Differ from Divorce?

There are two very different ways to dissolve a marriage in New Jersey: divorce or annulment. The difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce ends a marriage, whereas an annulment nullifies a marriage. Thus, when you get an annulment, it means that your marriage never existed.

Generally, an annulment occurs because the marriage was either void or voidable from the beginning. In New Jersey, an annulment is only granted under the following limited circumstances:

  • Age: Both parties must be 18 years old or older in order to be able to get married in New Jersey. If one of the parties is under 18 years old, then that person is not old enough to consent to be married and the parties may obtain an annulment in New Jersey. There is one small caveat, however. When the underage person reaches the age of majority, he or she can ratify the marriage. Once the marriage is ratified, the parties can no longer get an annulment, and in the event that they want to dissolve the marriage, they will have to file for a divorce in New Jersey unless one of the other circumstances applies.
  • Incapacity: This circumstance often applies to parties who get married on a whim while they are intoxicated. If one of the parties is not mentally capable of understanding that he or she is getting married, then the parties may get an annulment in New Jersey.
  • Polygamy: If one of the parties already has another spouse and the other person does not know about that existing marriage, then the marriage may be annulled in New Jersey.
  • Impotence: If one of the parties is impotent and the other spouse did not know that he or she was impotent before the marriage, then the parties may obtain an annulment in New Jersey.
  • Incest: A marriage between blood relatives may be annulled in New Jersey.
  • Fraud: A material misrepresentation affecting the marriage may result in an annulment in New Jersey.
  • Duress: If one of the parties only agreed to the marriage because of the threat of serious violence, then that party may request an annulment in New Jersey.

Usually, an annulment is sought after a very short marriage. Filing for an annulment can be risky. Because the order of annulment makes it as if the marriage never existed, you may lose certain property rights in an annulment that you may have otherwise been entitled to in the event of that you been divorced.

Additionally, when filing for an annulment, you will have the burden to prove one of the above circumstances in order to be granted the annulment.

Under the no-fault divorce regime in New Jersey, you must have been married for a certain amount of time in order to qualify for one of the no-fault causes of action. Thus, this is a consideration in whether you choose to file for divorce or for an annulment.

When considering dissolving your marriage, you should talk to your New Jersey family law attorney to determine which cause of action is best for you.