Separation and annulment are alternatives to divorce. They are different from divorce and from each other, so it is important to understand each legal term.
An annulment is like a divorce in that it is a court order after legal proceedings that dissolve a marriage, but it differs in that the result of an annulment leaves things as if the marriage had never taken place at all. Annulment is a good option for people whose religion prohibits remarriage for those who have been divorced. While annulments typically take place after very short periods of marriage, many people think it is an easy solution for terminating a short-term marriage. New Jersey law provides for annulment of a marriage in only very limited circumstances.
In order to be granted an annulment in New Jersey, you must qualify on one of the following legal grounds: incest; duress – the marriage was forced under threat of violence; underage – you must be 18 in New Jersey to enter into marriage; impotence – knowingly concealingly an inability to consummate the marriage or have children; lack of mental capacity to consent – whether from mental illness or impairment from intoxicating substances; fraud or misrepresentation – if one spouse has been deceitful in entering into the marriage, this could justify an annulment. Examples include concealing a prior marriage where the divorce was never finalized, substance abuse, marrying for immigration status or entering into a marriage while pregnant with another man’s child.
In New Jersey, alimony is less frequently awarded in annulment cases.
Legal separation is different from divorce and annulment in that in does not require a formal court action. In New Jersey couples can separate by living apart and establishing a legal agreement that covers important issues that would also be relevant in a divorce including:
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
- Division of property
This legal agreement will be issued by the court and may also include payments for living expenses. These payments for child support and living expenses are referred to as separate maintenance. In the event that a couple eventually files for divorce, separate maintenance is often used to determine alimony payments.
Legal separation does not change a couple’s marital status and thus leaves them the option to reconcile in the future. However, property rights and debt liability as to what is joint marital property, and what is separate property may be impacted. If you are separated and unsure about your legal liabilities, it is advisable to seek experienced counsel from a qualified divorce lawyer.