For one reason or another, many couples who have gotten married seek to either have their marriage annulled or to get divorced. The major difference between an annulment and a divorce is that, for an annulment, the reason for the dissolution must have occurred prior to the marriage. In a divorce, the reason for ending the marriage occurred during the divorce. Annulments are sometimes preferable to the parties involved because the term “annulment” doesn’t carry with it the same stigma as “divorce.”
The statute governing annulments is set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1 and provides the following:
d. The parties, or either of them, lacked capacity to marry due to want of understanding because of mental condition, or the influence of intoxicants, drugs, or similar agents; or where there was a lack of mutual assent to the marital relationship; duress; or fraud as to the essentials of marriage; and has not subsequently ratified the marriage.
e. The demand for such a judgment 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.
f. Allowable under the general equity jurisdiction of the Superior Court.
(2) Judgments of nullity of a civil union may be rendered in all cases, when:
a. Either of the parties has another wife, husband, partner in a civil union couple or domestic partner living at the time of establishing the new civil union.
b. The parties are within the degrees prohibited by the law from entering into a marriage or establishing a civil union or domestic partnership. If any such civil union shall not have been annulled during the lifetime of the parties the validity thereof shall not be inquired into after the death of either party.
c. The parties, or either of them, lacked capacity to enter into a civil union due to want of understanding because of mental condition, or the influence of intoxicants, drugs, or similar agents; or where there was a lack of mutual assent to the civil union; duress; or fraud as to the essentials of a civil union; and has not subsequently ratified the civil union.
d. The demand for such a judgment is by the party who was under the age of 18 years at the time of the civil union, unless such civil union be confirmed by him after arriving at such age.
e. Allowable under the general equity jurisdiction of the Superior Court.
This statute may seem self-explanatory, but a substantial body of case law has arisen over the years interpreting its terms. We’ll take some time today to address those issues that might be difficult to understand on the first reading.
First, what does the law refer to when it says that a judgment of nullity may be entered when the parties are “within the degrees prohibited by law”? This is an oblique reference to incest, which can justify an annulment in certain situations. Next, what does the law refer to when it says that a judgment of nullity is available only if the filing party “has not subsequently ratified the marriage [or civil union]”? Ratification generally means that, despite having learned of the condition or circumstance justifying an annulment, the married person continues to cohabit with the opposing party and fails to take immediate action to end the marriage.
We note that there are really two types of annulments: (1) cases in which the marriage was void at the outset because the parties were not capable of getting married and (2) cases where the marriage is not absolutely void at the outset, but may be voided, for a number of different reasons. Grounds that render the marriage void at the outset include, but are not limited to, the existence of a valid prior marriage and lack of capacity to consent to the marriage because of a mental condition, or the influence of drugs or similar agents. On the other hand, in situations where the marriage can exist but, for one reason or another, the parties choose to annul it, the Court may take that route as well. For example, impotence falls under this category.
If you have more specific questions about annulments in the State of New Jersey, feel free to call the DeTommaso Law Group at (908) 595-0340. We would be happy to help.