Unlike a divorce that terminates a marriage, an annulment is a legal determination that a marriage or civil union never existed. Individuals often seek a civil judgment of nullity due to religious or personal preference. Although a New Jersey couple may pursue a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, obtaining a judgment of nullity in this State is not as easy.
In New Jersey, an annulment must be based on the statutory factors included in N.J.S.A. Section 2A:34-1 (2014). Typical grounds for a New Jersey annulment include incurable impotency, incest, bigamy, fraud, duress, mental incapacity such as intoxication or insanity, or one or both members of the couple being younger than 18 at the time of the marriage. Despite this, certain circumstances such as a partner’s prior knowledge about the impotence, parental consent, or continuing to live as a married couple after a fraud was discovered may serve to ratify the marriage in some situations and frustrate or defeat the ability to secure an annulment.
In order to prevail, the plaintiff in an annulment action is required to demonstrate to the court that grounds for a judgment of nullity exist. A spouse who requests an annulment must do more than simply assert that such a judgment is proper. Proof of the alleged fraud, duress, or other grounds must be offered to the court. Additionally, a respondent spouse may raise certain defenses to an annulment action. For example, the spouse may claim a judgment of nullity is improper because the plaintiff continued to live as a married couple after the alleged marital defect was discovered. Similarly, the defendant spouse may attempt to disprove the grounds alleged in support of an annulment request or argue the plaintiff was also guilty of lying about a fundamental basis of the marriage.
In situations where fraud is alleged, not all untruths are considered equal by the courts. In order to constitute grounds for annulment, a fraud must be substantial. To illustrate, an annulment will not normally be granted if a spouse who claims to be wealthy is in fact poor. If a spouse is untruthful about his or her religious beliefs or fails to disclose known sterility, however, this may be grounds for a judgment of nullity.
Another consideration when determining whether to pursue an annulment is marital property. Even if a New Jersey court issues a judgment of nullity, any marital property issues will need to be resolved through a separate civil action. If no marriage existed, it is impossible for a family court to equitably divide marital property. In contrast, such issues may be decided in New Jersey marriage dissolution (divorce) actions. Thus, if you may have acquired any assets that would otherwise be subject to distribution, an annulment may not be the best avenue to pursue as the court cannot decide those property rights as part of an annulment action – only in a divorce action!
Each New Jersey annulment case is highly fact-specific. It is important to note that a couple who unsuccessfully pursues a judgment of nullity is not required to remain married. Instead, a plaintiff may choose to file for divorce. If you have questions about ending your marriage, an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer can help you decide which option is right for you based on the facts of your case.
If you are facing the end of your marriage, the seasoned family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group are available to review your circumstances and advise you about the legal options that are available. To speak with a skilled Monmouth family law advocate today, do not hesitate to call Goldstein Law Group at 732-967-6777 or contact us through our website.
More Blog Posts:
How is my Child Support Obligation Calculated in New Jersey?, April 28, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog
Will I be Required to Pay Spousal Support (ALIMONY) After My New Jersey Divorce?, April 27, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog