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What’s the Difference Between Annulment and Divorce?
Some of you may remember the classic episode of the sitcom “Friends” where Ross and Rachel got drunkenly married in Las Vegas. Afterward, there was a whole lot of wrangling between the two about getting the marriage annulled because Ross didn’t want to be the “guy who had three divorces.”
But a lot of people may not know what the difference between an annulment and a divorce is. Here’s a breakdown of the legal aspects of divorce and annulment and how these two are handled in New Jersey.
Annulment and Divorce: What’s the Difference?
When you break it all down, an annulment and a divorce differ on one major issue. With a divorce, you’re seeking a court order to end your marriage. With an annulment, you’re “nullifying” the marriage.
With a divorce, you acknowledge that you were married, but you no longer wish to be. With an annulment, the marriage is deemed to have never really existed from the beginning.
What’s an Annulment?
There’s one major similarity between a divorce and an annulment. With both, you must go to court to finalize the legal side of the proceedings. But if the court agrees to grant you an annulment, they’re saying the marriage never happened in the first place.
Even today, some people think of divorce as “shameful” and a sign of personal failings. An annulment is one way to remove this stigma by nullifying the marriage and allowing the person to not have to be “divorced.”
If taken through the court, this is considered a legal civil annulment. Certain churches can issue an annulment. However, these have no legal standing in the court system. So, if you receive a religious annulment, you’re still technically married in the eyes of the law until you also receive a civil annulment.
What Are the Grounds for an Annulment in New Jersey?
Just as you have to show legal grounds for getting a divorce, you also have to show a reason why your marriage should be annulled. In New Jersey, these legal grounds include:
- If you and your spouse were under 18 when you got married and you haven’t had sexual relations at all;
- If you or your spouse were under the influence of alcohol or drugs and didn’t understand that you were getting married;
- If you or your spouse had a mental condition that prevented you from understanding that you were getting married;
- If you or your spouse were manipulated into marrying through fraud and deceit;
- If you or your spouse were severely threatened by someone to force you to marry;
- If you or your spouse suffered from incurable impotence at the time of the marriage;
- If you and your spouse are close family relatives and the marriage would therefore be illegal; and
- If you or your spouse were married to someone else at the time of your marriage and that party is therefore committing bigamy.
What’s the Process for an Annulment in New Jersey?
If you wish to get an annulment in New Jersey, then you (or your spouse) must be a resident of the state when you file for the annulment. You start the process by completing a “Complaint for Annulment” form where you outline the information about yourself, your spouse, the marriage, and why you’re seeking the annulment (specifically, what grounds from the list above that you’re using to justify getting an annulment). We recommend that you retain an experienced attorney to help guide you through this process.
Next, your spouse must be served with this complaint form, meaning that someone other than yourself must hand-deliver the petition to them. That person will then need to fill out an Affidavit of Service, which you must then file with your local court.
Once your spouse has been served with the complaint, they can either challenge the annulment or agree with it. If they agree, then it’s very simple—the judge can officially annul the marriage without having to hold a hearing, so you don’t have to go to court.
But if they challenge the annulment, there will be a hearing in front of the judge. (Since you may end up having a hearing, this is another good reason to hire a family law attorney at the beginning of the annulment process.) At that hearing, you’ll need to testify and present evidence to prove your case. Your spouse will be given the opportunity to do the same. Then, the judge will decide whether to issue a Judgment of Nullity.
What’s the Effect of an Annulment?
As soon as the Judgement of Nullity is issued, your marriage ceases to exist as if it never happened. If you had children with your spouse, however, they’re not suddenly considered “illegitimate.” The father will still officially be the father of your children unless that’s proven to not be the case.
Just like with a divorce, an annulment can require issues of child custody, child support, and alimony to be decided. However, the “equitable distribution of property” isn’t at issue in an annulment. With an annulment, any property in your name stays in your name and the same is true for your spouse. If you both own property together, then you’ll split that equally.
Can You Get a Religious Annulment, and Is It Legally Binding In New Jersey?
Many people choose to get an annulment instead of a divorce because of religious reasons. For instance, some churches don’t recognize or support divorces. If you choose to get a religious annulment, you must remember that your marriage is only annulled in the eyes of the church.
In the state of New Jersey, you’re still legally married unless you get a civil annulment by going through the steps we detailed above. Because this process can also result in issues of alimony and support as well as custody, it’s incredibly important to hire a legal representative at Smedley Law Group who’s experienced in annulment cases to guide you through this process.
Divorce Might Be the Better Option
Usually, a marriage is annulled fairly quickly. Because of this, most couples haven’t had time to amass large debts in both their names. Additionally, many people are simply looking to nullify the marriage and move on with their lives.
However, sometimes complications arise, especially when it pertains to child support, custody, and alimony. With these complications, you may wish to consider a divorce instead. Hiring a divorce attorney is important to protect your interests in the proceedings. New Jersey offers “no-fault” divorces as well, which allows you to fully divorce without having to meet to iron out issues.
Regardless of whether you choose an annulment, a divorce, or even a no-fault divorce, it’s important you get legal advice from an experienced lawyer. These different proceedings all have their own legal entanglements that can prove tricky to navigate. An established family law attorney at Smedley Law Group can help you with that.
Contact the Compassionate Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Maple Shade, NJ Today
If you’re thinking about getting an annulment or filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including Haddonfield, Gloucester City, Moorestown, Audubon, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.