Divorce, Annulment & Dissolution of Civil Unions
The decision to dissolve a marriage marks a critical and often emotional time in any person’s life. The end of a marriage represents the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. Further, a divorce can have far-reaching consequences for not only the individual litigants, but for their children and families as well.
Divorce and Annulment Defined:
In a nutshell, divorce is the legal termination of a marriage. The court enters a final judgment which terminates the legal marriage contract and pronounces the once married parties as single. Conversely, an annulment (which is much rarer in New Jersey than divorce) declares a marriage void, as though it never occurred. The process for obtaining a divorce or an annulment are relatively similar, procedurally, but as addressed further below, the grounds for an annulment are more limited.
Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey:
In New Jersey, a divorce can be granted on both no-fault and fault-based grounds. The most common “no-fault” ground for divorce in New Jersey is known as “irreconcilable differences” and requires only that the parties have experienced a breakdown in their relationship for a period of at least 6 months prior to initiating an action for divorce. Conversely, under any of the fault-based grounds enumerated below, more specific proofs are required.
Fault-based grounds for divorce in New Jersey include:
- Desertion (willful and for at least 12 months)
- Extreme Cruelty
- Drug and/or Alcohol Addiction
- Institutionalization for Mental Illness (for at least 24 months)
- Imprisonment (for at least 18 months)
- Deviant Sexual Conduct
Usually, unless the behavior is extreme and/or had financial ramifications to the marriage, fault or blame for the breakdown of a marriage relationship does not impact the ultimate outcome in a divorce. As such, most often, fault-based grounds will be included in a Complaint for divorce (along with irreconcilable differences) merely as a matter of strategy where custody, parenting time, and/or support or alimony are at issue.
Grounds for Annulment in New Jersey:
Like a divorce, an annulment (otherwise known as a judgment of nullity) terminates a marriage, however, it does so by declaring the marriage relationship void from a legal perspective. As such, the grounds under which a party can seek an annulment are more limited, and include:
- That either party was already married to another individual at the time of the marriage at issue;
- That there was an illegal familial relation between the parties;
- That either party was incurably impotent at the time of the marriage (and failed to disclose same to the other party);
- That either party lacked the mental capacity to marry;
- That there was a lack of mutual assent to the marriage;
- That either party was under the legal age of consent to marry.
While an annulment results in the same outcome as a divorce – the parties are no longer considered married, there are some significant differences. For instance, while the court can still address issues of custody, parenting time, and even financial support where relevant and appropriate, there is no statutory equitable distribution of property as occurs in a divorce. As such, division of any property is more heavily tied to how title to property is held.
Dissolution of Civil Unions:
Civil unions, available to same-sex couples in New Jersey, are dissolved in the same fashion as a marriage and, like in a divorce, couples in a civil union are entitled to have the court decide issues of custody, parenting time, support, alimony, and equitable distribution. Significantly, and a fact sometimes forgotten, where a couple is both married and has a civil union, they must ask the court to dissolve both when seeking to legally terminate their relationship.
At Eveland & Foster, LLC, our attorneys are not only experienced and knowledgeable in all facets of divorce, annulment and the dissolution of civil unions, we strive to provide each client with representation that is both zealous and compassionate, tailored to each individual’s unique needs and goals for their future. If you are considering seeking a divorce, we are ready to assist.