Annulment vs Divorce: What’s the Difference?
There are two ways to legally end a marriage in the State of New Jersey: divorce and annulment. Consult the descriptions below to determine which approach is right for you.
Divorce is a process by which two spouses legally terminate a marriage. The divorce process varies by state and the specific facts of your case. However, every divorce settlement will include a divorce decree, division of marital assets and debt, custody and parenting plans (if applicable), and spousal support.
To file for divorce, at least one spouse must be a New Jersey resident for 12 consecutive months. If the reason for divorce is adultery, the waiting period for the residency requirement is waived.
When determining grounds for divorce, there are two categories: no-fault, and fault-based. No-fault grounds for divorce include:
- Irreconcilable differences which have caused a breakdown in the marriage for six months
- Living separately for at least 18 months with no chance of reconciliation
Fault-based grounds for divorce include:
- Willful desertion for 12 months
- Extreme cruelty
- Alcoholism or drug addiction
- Institutionalism for mental illness for 24 months after the marriage and before filing
- Imprisonment for 18 months (provided there is no cohabitation after release)
- Deviant sexual conduct
Divorces are a lot easier to obtain than annulments. One or both spouses can file for a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences with minimum burden of proof. For annulments, the burden of proof is significantly higher, based on the qualifying criteria.
In an annulment, the marriage is declared null and void. In other words, the marriage never existed. While anyone can pursue a divorce, not all marital situations qualify for an annulment.
There are two types of annulments: civil and religious. A civil annulment granted by a judge has no impact on the status of a marriage within a religious institution. Likewise, a religious annulment has no impact on the legal status of a marriage in the State of New Jersey. Civil and religious annulments are entirely independent of one another.
Civil annulments are rarely granted in New Jersey, but may be permitted if you can prove one of the following circumstances:
- If you (or your spouse) did not comprehend you were entering a marriage due to mental incapacity or intoxication
- If you (or your spouse) had incurable impotence at the time of the marriage
- If you married a close blood relative
- If you (or your spouse) were under 18 at the time of marriage
- If you (or your spouse) were already married to another person at the time of your wedding
- If you (or your spouse) were influenced into marriage using threats, fraud, or lies
Unlike divorce, there is no requirement that you live in New Jersey for 12 months prior to seeking an annulment. Custody, child support, and alimony can all be decided by a judge during the annulment process, but are not necessarily addressed in every case. Equitable distribution of marital property works very differently from the divorce process.
Technically, there is no such thing as “marital property” after a marriage is declared null and void. Ownership of property, possessions, and investments will default to the titles on each item.
For example: If the house was purchased in Spouse A’s name before the marriage, it would stay with Spouse A following the annulment.
If a property or possession was purchased in both names during the marriage, it will usually be divided equally.
Consult a New Jersey Family Law Expert
Still not sure which approach is right for you? Let the divorce experts at Arons & Solomon help sort through the facts of your case, and determine which approach works best for your priorities.
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