For most marriages, if they fall apart, the parties will decide whether to get a divorce. Under certain limited circumstances, however, an annulment may be possible and advisable. Unlike a divorce, an annulment completely invalidates a marriage, such that under the law, it will be as if the marriage never happened. Annulment is reserved for circumstances under which a marriage should not have been legally permissible in the first place.
Grounds for Annulment in New Jersey
To obtain an annulment, the marriage must have been invalid at the time it was entered. The grounds for annulment are explicitly defined under New Jersey law. A New Jersey marriage may be annulled under the following circumstances:
- Bigamy - If one party was already legally married when the second marriage occurred, the second marriage is invalid and may be annulled.
- Duress - If one party coerces the other into marriage with undue pressure, an annulment might be available.
- Non-age - No party under the age of 18 can legally consent to the marriage.
- Impotence - If a party was knowingly incapable of having children at the time of the marriage and did not tell the other party, the marriage may be annulled.
- Incapacity - A marriage may be annulled if one party could not consent at the time of the marriage. Lack of capacity may be due to mental illness or disability, intoxication, or other grounds.
- Incest - Marriages between certain blood relatives are subject to annulment in New Jersey.
- Fraud - A party might seek an annulment if they were tricked into marriage by the other party’s fraud. Common grounds of annulment by fraud include a hidden drug or alcohol addiction, lies about desire or capacity to have children, misrepresentation of essential religious beliefs, or where one party lies about being pregnant by another man at the time of marriage.
The Time Limit for Annulment in New Jersey
Annulments typically happen after a very short marriage when the ground for annulment is discovered. New Jersey law does not, however, specify a specific time limit for seeking cancellation of a marriage.
Securing an annulment requires proving one of the above criteria. Waiting too long to seek annulment may weaken the claimed grounds for cancellation if the annulment is challenged. For example, if one spouse seeks annulment on grounds of fraud relating to religious beliefs or their spouse’s lack of desire to have children, and the parties were married a decade, a court may be convinced by the other spouse that the claimed grounds are untrue, given that one would expect such issues to be unearthed much sooner.
New Jersey courts may, in limited circumstances, grant an annulment within 30 days of a marriage ceremony, even without cause.