The winds of recent change in the Catholic Church have stirred congregants’ faith about remarrying in the church. Remarriage after divorce has long been considered a sin under traditional Catholicism, unless one of the spouses has died or the marriage has been annulled. An annulment is effected through a court procedure that dissolves the marriage and treats it as if it never happened.
There are two types of annulments:
- Religious Annulment – the process managed by the church that recognizes and accepts the dissolution of the marriage, but has no legal consequence; and
- Civil Annulment – a process managed by the New Jersey courts to legally strike the marriage as if it never existed.
The reforms recently spearheaded by Pope Francis and other like-minded people within the Church would streamline the religious annulment process for Catholics in cases involving extreme circumstances, such as the other spouse’s infidelity or abuse. The Pope has removed the requirement for secondary review of the annulment, taken steps to reduce costs, and targets for completion within 45 days.
Seeking a civil annulment in New Jersey requires at least one spouse to be a NJ resident at the filing date of a “Complaint for Annulment.” This document asks for information about both spouses, children, details of marriage, and grounds for annulment. Such grounds may be claimed by either spouse in and could include:
- I was a minor when we got married and have not had sexual relations since I became an adult;
- I did not understand I was getting married due to either intoxication or a psychological impairment;
- I got married under threat of severe harm or duress;
- I got married because of fraud or lies to induce me to marry (false promises to have children, or of religious belief, or other false statements that go to the heart of the marriage);
- The marriage is illegal because the parties’ close familial relationship violates the law, or one of the parties was married to another person when this marriage occurred (bigamy); or
- Permanent physical, psychological, or other condition that makes it impossible to have intercourse.
The plaintiff must file a Complaint for Annulment with the court and serve a copy upon the other party. If the other party consents to the annulment, the matter will proceed on an uncontested basis.
In times past, the New Jersey courts required corroboration of the allegations in the Complaint by a third party witness, without whom s final judgment of annulment could not be obtained. That is a relic of the past. Now, the plaintiff signs a Verified Complaint swearing to the truth of the matters contained therein. The plaintiff may testify under oath as to the facts and circumstances giving rise to the annulment request. If they are found to be genuine and not frivolous, the Judge will enter a Judgment of Annulment. Interestingly, while the marriage may be declared null and void from the beginning, the parties still may need to resolve issues of child custody, parenting time, child support, and division of property (albeit not by equitable distribution, which is a creature of marriage).
Should your spouse not agree to an annulment, then you will both need to appear before the Judge for a hearing to present evidence as to whether or not an annulment is appropriate. Successfully annulled marriages are granted a Judgment of Nullity, which considers the union void from the very beginning, because something essential to the relationship was found to be missing.
The Church has a religious process for annulment with its own rules and requirements. The Family Court process, even if fully successful, does not guarantee the plaintiff the desired outcome, yet it certainly is a step in the right direction.
Despite New Jersey’s seemingly straightforward civil annulment process, annulments may turn ugly or go horribly wrong — for any number of reasons. If you are considering an annulment, then you should consult with an experienced New Jersey family lawyer to review your case. Call the law offices of Hanan M. Isaacs, P.C., at 609-683-7400, or contact us online, to schedule a reduced fee initial consultation in our Central Jersey offices in Kingston. We will listen to your facts, explain the law, and help you create a pathway to economic and social justice for your kids and you. Call today. You will be glad you did.