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Divorce vs. Annulment

Faded, Old-Fashioned Marriage Certificate with the Word "Annulled" Stamped on It in Red Ink

Many clients often ask me whether they would qualify for an annulment as opposed to a divorce and whether an annulment is better. There is no better or worse when it comes to the question of divorce vs. annulment. The question becomes whether you qualify for an annulment under Court rules. While I understand that many people wish they could pretend their marriage never existed, they may not have the right to ask for an annulment which is essentially a way of saying the marriage never happened. Where one qualifies for an annulment is fact specific.

I recently represented a man who wanted to have his short-term marriage annulled. My client, Mike met his bride, Olga, through mutual friends. They immediately hit it off and began dating. Mike took Olga to expensive restaurants, Broadway shows, and purchased gifts for her. She led Mike to believe that she loved him and Mike trusted her. Olga led Mike to believe she wanted to live and share her life with him. Shortly after they began dating, Mike and Olga were married. After the marriage, it became known to Mike that Olga married him for the sole purpose of obtaining citizenship in the United States. She refused to spend the holidays with him, refused to move into his home, and would not consummate the marriage. It was clear to Mike that Olga lied to him and that the entire marriage was based on fraud. He came to me and asked to file for an annulment. The question is whether in this situation, Mike would qualify for an annulment.

In this particular case, Mike would absolutely qualify for an annulment of his marriage to Olga. The Family Court in New Jersey can declare certain marriages invalid or as we commonly refer to them, annulled. In a Divorce, the cause of the end of the marriage occurs during the marriage. On the contrary, when a marriage is annulled, the cause for the end of the marriage exists before or at the time of the marriage.

There are various grounds (reasons) under which a person can file for an annulment.

Grounds for an annulment in New Jersey are:

  1. Fraud: Any significant misrepresentation by one party to another prior to marriage that affects the marriage can be considered fraud. Some examples of the type of fraud that would qualify for an annulment are:
  • When one spouse uses the other for obtaining citizenship
  • Lying about wanting to have children
  • Lying about religious beliefs
  • Lying about being addicted to drugs or alcohol
  1. Duress: If you or your family have been threatened and the threat is the only reason you married your spouse you may be eligible for an annulment.
  1. Nonage: If one of the spouses was under the age of 18 at the time of the marriage, it may be annulled.
  1. Bigamy: If you or your spouse has another spouse at the time of your marriage, this is bigamy. To qualify for an annulment under bigamy, you must not have known of the other spouse at the time of the marriage.
  1. Incest: If you are married to a blood relative you may be eligible for an annulment.
  1. Impotence: If you or your spouse was impotent at the time of the marriage and this fact was concealed by you or from you, then the marriage may qualify for an annulment.
  1. Incapacity: If a person is unable to understand that they are getting married (is intoxicated or mentally disabled) the marriage may be annulled.

In Mike’s matter it was obvious that Olga only married him for the purpose of obtaining citizenship and that the marriage was a fraud. She let Mike to believe she loved him and promised she wanted to start a life with him. Mike had no reason to believe that Olga was lying and the Court granted Mike an annulment.

If you would like to discuss whether you qualify for an annulment and your options with regard to the same, please contact my office for a free consultation.

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