Want Out of a Marriage? An Annulment is Very Different Than Divorce

annulment vs annulment

Maybe you rushed into marriage with lingering doubts. Or discovered vital facts hidden from you early on. Perhaps the relationship seemed completely misrepresented, or you never truly felt genuinely close in the ways you expected.

If you want out of a marriage quickly because things felt off from the start, we have reassuring news – you likely qualify for an annulment. This simply establishes legally what you already know deep down – a valid marriage never existed.

An annulment isn’t just a “Catholic divorce” either, despite common myths. These legal declarations void marriages from the outset for numerous reasons in every state. The process is smooth, allowing you to wipe clean a relationship’s slate decisively.

Don’t worry, we’ll clarify exactly what constitutes grounds for an annulment versus an old-fashioned divorce.

What is an Annulment?

An annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage invalid. It differs substantially from divorce in that divorce legally dissolves an acceptable marriage, whereas an annulment establishes that the marriage never met legal validity in the first place.

An annulment establishes that state requirements failed to be properly met from day one. This allows the marriage to be wiped from either spouse’s legal record going forward. Rather than formally ending a marriage like a divorce, an annulment essentially erases it retroactively in the eyes of the law as if it never happened.

Grounds for an Annulment in New Jersey

Seeking annulment hinges on proving specific grounds demonstrating the marriage lacked legitimacy from the outset. Valid reasons stem from defects present at the time of matrimony, not issues arising later. Annulments treat marriages as though they never legally existed.

Under N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-1, grounds for annulment in New Jersey include:

  • One spouse was simultaneously married to another person at the time (i.e., never legally divorced from the previous spouse before remarrying)
  • The spouses are too closely related by blood to legally marry (i.e., first cousins in many states)
  • Either spouse was permanently unable to engage in sexual intercourse (i.e., due to physical disability or condition)
  • Lacked full legal mental capacity to consent or was heavily intoxicated (i.e., sufficiently understanding lifelong commitment of marriage)
  • A spouse did not freely agree to the marriage but was under duress or manipulation (i.e., forced or threatened to go through with the wedding)
  • The marriage involved active deception about oneself or intent
    (i.e., lying about ability or willingness to have children)
  • One spouse was below the legal age requirement without parental approval (age varies by state, usually 18 years old)
  • The marriage circumstances violated general state marriage regulations (i.e., improper officiant, witnesses, license jurisdiction issues)

Proving grounds falls on petitioners – simple declaration alone does not suffice. A party seeking annulment must offer clear, compelling documentation. For instance, demonstrating prior existing marriage requires official records showing exact dates.

How is an Annulment Different From a Divorce?

Divorce and annulment share certain similarities around petitioning the court and following designated procedures. Both aim to legally end an unsuccessful marriage. A few key contrasts emerge around grounds, outcomes, and implications, however.

Whereas annulment relies on defects undermining the initial marriage, divorce accepts the marriage as originally valid.

In New Jersey, grounds for divorce center on issues arising later, such as:

  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Separation period meeting state requirements
  • Adultery
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Imprisonment
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Institutionalization for mental illness

No-fault divorces sidestep, proving specific grounds and moving forward on the basic agreement the relationship ended. Fault divorces attempt to place blame.

An annulment treats the marriage as though it never occurred legally. Divorce acknowledges the legal marriage existed and terminates it.

This shapes how the court handles related issues like property division and spousal support.

Should You Get an Annulment or Divorce?

Knowing the key differences in dissolution options – formally ending a valid marriage (divorce) versus establishing one as legally invalid from the start (annulment) – which is right for your situation?

You may want to consider an annulment for the following reasons:

  • You want a faster process providing quicker emotional closure
  • You want to avoid extended property division battles
  • You prefer clearing your record entirely versus divorce documentation
  • The relationship was short enough to qualify for annulment
  • There are circumstances like coercion, deception, or inability to consent

On the other hand, you may choose divorce if you:

  • Meet state residency & minimum marriage length rules
  • Share intertwined finances and property requiring court guidance
  • Seek transitional or short/long-term spousal support
  • Need custody agreements for children

As you weigh your personal situation, our divorce lawyers can help you navigate legally terminating marital unions while protecting rights, financial interests, and safety based on your circumstances and goals.

Let Our Family Lawyers Guide You Beyond Heartbreak

The line between annulment and divorce remains murkier than many first assume. Despite intensely personal stakes, deciding between the two often follows legal technicalities. Emotions matter, but so do finances, assets, and the level of complication carried into the marriage initially.

Let us shoulder the burden around complex filings and procedures. With deep knowledge of state laws and years navigating family courts, no one is better positioned to make this difficult process go smoothly.

At Netsquire, our attorneys partner with individuals and couples facing the challenges of dissolving marriages in New Jersey. We handle arrangements related to children, property, support, and more with care and diligence, whether filing for annulment or divorce. If determining the next steps after separation, contact us to discuss options confidentially.

Reach out online or call today to ask about a consultation.



About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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