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Understanding the Annulment Process

If you want to end your marriage but are hesitant to pursue a divorce for personal or religious reasons, you may have another option: annulment. Annulments, like divorces, dissolve marriages. The difference is annulments effectively wipe marriages from the record books as if they had never happened. The family law attorneys at Dunne, Dunne & Cohen, LLC, help clients in Kearny, Hoboken, NJ, and throughout the state understand and navigate the complexities of marriage annulments. Backed by more than 50 combined years in practice, F.R. "Chip" Dunne, III, Leonard B. Cohen, and Frederick R. Dunne, Jr. treat clients with compassion and understanding throughout the legal process.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Just as in a divorce, an annulment ends a marriage. However, an annulment goes so far as to declare the marriage legally void or invalid. There are a number of reasons why people choose annulments. Some choose this option for religious reasons, whereas others find that divorce carries a stigma they want to avoid. Courts are also less likely to award spousal support, or alimony payments, in the case of an annulment.

Unlike a divorce, an annulment effectively eliminates a marriage as though it never happened.

There are two types of annulments: civil and religious. Civil annulments are granted by the court, whereas religious annulments are granted by the church. As far as the state of New Jersey is concerned, civil annulments are the only type that affects your marital status. 

What Are Grounds for Annulment in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, there are multiple grounds for annulment, such as:

  • You or your spouse married before turning 18 and have not had sexual relations since turning 18
  • You or your spouse were incurably impotent at the time of marriage
  • You or your spouse convinced the other to marry under false pretenses (lies or fraud)
  • You or your spouse were threatened into marriage
  • You or your spouse were unable to comprehend that you were marrying, whether due to intoxication or a mental condition
  • You are too closely related to your spouse and therefore the marriage is illegal
  • You or your spouse were married to someone else when you married each other

In addition, annulments usually only apply to very short marriages with little to no shared debt and assets.

Burden of Proof

Telling the court one of the grounds for annulment exists is not enough on its own for an annulment to be granted. Instead, it is required that you present documentation or testimony to back up your claims. 

There are a number of reasons why people choose annulments. Some choose this option for religious reasons, whereas others find that divorce carries a stigma they want to avoid. 

For example, if you claim your spouse threatened you into marriage, you will need to provide proof of threats of violence. If you claim your spouse convinced you to marry under false pretenses, the nature of the lie will determine whether the annulment is granted. New Jersey courts have determined that lying about sharing religious beliefs is grounds for annulment, whereas lying about financial circumstances is not. 

Acceptable Defenses in Annulment Cases

As a defendant spouse, you can try to disprove the presented facts or attempt to prove you and your spouse continued living together after those grounds came to light. In this case, you and your spouse have “confirmed” your marriage and the court will not grant an annulment. The New Jersey courts also uphold the “doctrine of unclean hands,” which means if the plaintiff spouse is guilty of some fault, an annulment will not be granted. You can still file for a divorce if this happens.

Contact an Attorney to Learn More

If you are unsure whether you should proceed with a divorce or have grounds for an annulment, contact Dunne, Dunne & Cohen. Our team can evaluate your unique situation and find a solution which protects your best interests. To schedule a consultation, contact our firm online or call (732) 955-0337 today.

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