Unlike a divorce which is a legal decree that a marriage no longer exists, an annulment is a legal decree that a marriage never existed in the first place.
Couples seek annulments, rather than divorces, in short term marriages for a variety of reasons such as:
- Insufficient capacity to marry.
- Other special reasons.
According to the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, a marriage in considered valid when:
- It is celebrated in a ceremony acceptable under Catholic Church law;
- Both parties are free to marry each other;
- Each party intends, from the beginning of the marriage, to accept the Church’s teachings on married life;and
- Each partner has the physical and psychological ability to continue to give consent to the marriage.
If any of these requirements is lacking, then the couple can seek a declaration from the Church that the marriage was invalid.If a religious annulment is granted, then the partners can remarry in the church. Children of an annulled marriage are still considered legitimate.
It is often easier for a couple to obtain a religious annulment if they already have a civil annulment.
For a marriage to be annulled under New Jersey law (as distinct from under religious law), the couple must prove to the court that there was some type of incapacity, misrepresentation, or fraud as the basis for the marital relationship.
The following are grounds for an annulment of a marriage in New Jersey:
Duress:A person was compelled to marry under the threat of violence “sufficient to overcome the mind and will of a person of ordinary firmness.”For example, a “shot-gun wedding” might be an example of a marriage performed under duress.
Bigamy:A spouse already had at least one living spouse at the time of the wedding.
Age:No one under 18 may marry in New Jersey without court approval.However, an annulment will not be granted if the party who was younger than 18 confirmed the marriage after coming of age.
Impotence:If a husband was impotent at the time of marriage and did not reveal this to his wife, the wife may seek an annulment, unless the wife later “ratifies” the marriage.
Incapacity:A marriage may be annulled if a spouse lacked the mental capacity to understand that he or she was getting married.The incapacity may be permanent – due to mental disability or illness – or may be temporary due to intoxication.An annulment may not be granted if the spouse claiming incapacity later “ratified” the marriage.
Incest:The parties are close blood relatives.
Fraud:The marriage was based on some sort of lie or dishonesty.
Types of fraud include:
- Either spouse lying about his or her desire, or lack of desire, to have children;
- A spouse marrying solely for the purpose of obtaining US citizenship;
- A spouse concealing drug or alcohol addiction;
- A spouse misrepresenting his or her religious beliefs, if religion was a major issue for the other spouse;and
- If the wife failed to tell her husband that she was already pregnant by another man.
Just as when a marriage ends in divorce, New Jersey courts may make orders concerning child custody, visitation, and child support in the event of an annulment but in an annulment, the court has no power to award alimony or to divide marital property.
If you want to discuss the possibility of annulling your marriage, please contact our office to arrange an appointment with an experienced Bergen County family law attorney at Chase & Chase.