In New Jersey, couples are sometimes interested in the difference between a divorce and an annulment from a legal perspective. These are two different approaches to ending a marriage, and they have different implications, which matter for the participants.
What is divorce?
Marriages can end for all kinds of reasons. Divorce is the most common, of course. Divorce means that a marriage is legally ended. It existed and was valid, but ceases as of the date of the divorce. The settlement of marital property, child custody, and other issues are decided through a legal mechanism like a court case or civil mediation.
What is annulment?
In contrast, an annulment is a legal declaration that the marriage was never valid in the first place. The potential reasons for this vary by state and by case. They generally include, for example, that the marriage was not valid because one of the parties was forced or duped, or was underage. Another is that one spouse was already married to someone else at the time. Instead of being reasons to end a marriage, these are grounds to have it declared that it should never legally have begun.
It is important to understand that these are not two different approaches to ending a marriage. They have different functions and are relevant to different situations. A divorce is common and relatively simple, while annulments are rare and have more limited applications.
It is very uncommon to see an annulment, but they can remedy a difficult situation for a marriage that never should have taken place. In some cases, it is the best way forward for a marriage that was never legal.