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Should I Get An Annulment Instead of a Divorce?

Annulment - legal concept

If you are facing the end of your marriage, you may wonder about your best legal option, given your familial circumstances. Clients often ask about the benefits of mediation, legal separation, contested vs. uncontested divorces, etc. Occasionally, clients who believe they have a very serious reason for ending a marriage wonder if they are better off seeking an annulment rather than a traditional divorce. Many people have heard of annulments, but most people do not have a full understanding of what annulment actually entails. Continue reading for a discussion of annulments in New Jersey, and contact an experienced New Jersey divorce and family law attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

What is an annulment?

Annulment is an extreme measure reserved for very specific circumstances that will entirely invalidate, rather than merely end, a marriage. Whereas divorce is the dissolution of a legal and proper marriage, an annulment is a legal declaration that a marriage never took place. After an annulment, both spouses may legally state they were never married. Annulments typically happen after only a very short marriage when the grounds for annulment are uncovered.

What are the grounds for an annulment in New Jersey?

New Jersey courts will only grant an annulment if there are reasons to declare that the marriage was never legitimate to begin with. The marriage itself had to have been either illegal or in some way unconscionable under New Jersey law. Grounds for an annulment in New Jersey include the following:

  • Either spouse was under the age of 18 when the marriage occurred;
  • Due to a mental condition or intoxication, one spouse was not mentally fit to understand that they were marrying;
  • One party only married as a result of coercion via severe threats;
  • One spouse was incurably impotent or infertile at the time of marriage, and that fact was intentionally hidden from the other spouse and/or not rectified during the marriage;
  • The marriage was illegal because the parties were too closely related;
  • One party was already married when the couple purportedly married (bigamy);
  • Other forms of fraud sufficient to upset the very foundation of the marriage, such as a hidden drug addiction, immigration status, misrepresentation about religious beliefs, or a preexisting pregnancy.

Effects of an annulment

After an annulment, your marriage will be considered void. If you and your spouse had children during the marriage, the children would still be considered “legitimate,” and parental rights will not automatically change (e.g., a husband who is the presumed father will remain the father unless proven otherwise). A court can still make decisions regarding child custody, alimony, and child support during an annulment proceeding.

Unlike in a divorce proceeding, however, a New Jersey court cannot enter orders about the equitable distribution of property. Division of property in an annulment will instead proceed under contract law, generally depending on who holds title to the various items and property. Items already in your name will remain your property, while items with your spouse listed on the title will become theirs.

Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney

If you need compassionate, experienced, and talented legal help with a premarital agreement, divorce, or other family law matter in New Jersey, contact the Union offices of family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102.

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