In practice, annulments are uncommon, but it is not uncommon for prospective clients to wonder whether they can obtain an annulment.
Fortunately, New Jersey makes it simple by having a statute that sets forth the various grounds to annul a marriage. They are as follows:
Bigamy – Either party is already married at the time of the second marriage;
Incest – The parties are related by a degree prohibited by law;
Impotence – The parties, or either of them, at the time of the marriage is physically and incurable impotent, provided that the party seeking the annulment was ignorant of this fact at the time of the marriage and had no subsequently ratified the marriage;
Lack of Capacity – The parties, or either of them, lacked capacity to marry as a result of a mental condition or the influence of intoxicants or drugs, or where there was a lack of mutual assent to the marital relationship, provided the marriage was not subsequently ratified;
Fraud – As to the essentials of the marriage, provided the marriage was not subsequently ratified;
Duress, provided the marriage was not subsequently ratified; and
Underage – The demand for such an annulment is by the wife or husband who was under the age of 18 years at the time of the marriage, unless such marriage be confirmed by her or him after arriving at such age.
Duration of the marriage, no matter how short, is not grounds to obtain an annulment in New Jersey. In other words, whether you were married for thirty minutes or thirty years, if none of the above situations apply to your marriage, you must seek a divorce from the court, and are not able to obtain an annulment.
The main difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce terminates the marital relationship, whereas an annulment declares the marital relationship null and void, as if the marriage had not happened in the first place.
From a legal perspective, this difference can be significant, especially for long-term marriages, since New Jersey’s equitable distribution (property division) statue only apply to divorces, and not to annulments. In such cases, the courts are more constrained to provide relief. Nevertheless, the New Jersey alimony statute does apply to annulment and divorces alike.
Similarly, custody issues and the right to receive child support are not impacted by an annulment, because those rights arise by virtue of having children, regardless of marital status.
As set forth above, many of the grounds for annulments are inapplicable if the marriage is “ratified” after the alleged ground for an annulment arises. When a party ratifies the marriage, it means that he or she has agreed to continue the marital relationship even after the ground for an annulment becomes known.
For example, if one party only learns after the marriage that other is impotent, but then proceeds with the marriage anyway, he or she would not be able to annul the marriage later on based on impotence.
To annul a marriage on the basis of fraud, the statute clearly provides that the fraud must implicate the “essentials of the marriage”. New Jersey courts have not defined what might qualify as the “essentials of marriage”, because what might be considered essential to one marriage may not be essential to another, but they have generally interpreted this provision very narrowly.
Issues related to the desire to have children, intention to adhere to particular a particular religious lifestyle and the concealment of a serious drug addiction have been sufficient grounds for a court to grant an annulment. On the other hand, lying about personal wealth, failure to disclose children from another relationship and even concealment of a mental illness were insufficient to warrant an annulment.
In consideration of the above, it is clear that an annulment based on fraud must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Whether you are considering seeking an annulment, or whether you are defending against your spouse’s claim for an annulment, contact Central New Jersey Divorce Attorney Steven M. Cytryn, Esq., to learn about how an annulment might impact your case and how to protect your rights. Proudly Serving Central New Jersey, including Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Union and Mercer Counties.