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Pope Francis may change the Church’s annulment rules. How does it work in New Jersey?

Posted by Matt Rooney | Sep 08, 2015 | 0 Comments

Catholic annulments may be getting easier but the New Jersey annulment process remains difficult, fact-sensitive

President Barack Obama says goodbye to Pope Francis after a March 2014 visit to the Vatican. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) The greater New York and Philadelphia regions are buzzing ahead of a late September visit from Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church that's membership includes roughly 39% of New Jersey population according to recent demographic data. The Supreme Pontiff's visit is expected to be more than just a courtesy call. According to published reports, he plans to discuss a variety of controversial points of public policy and even promulgate a new Church policy or two. Of particular interest to us here at DeMichele & DeMichele are changes to how the Church handles annulments. What is an annulment? Unlike a divorce which dissolves a marriage, an annulment erases the marriage as if it never took place. The grounds for this radical remedy are therefore necessarily more limited in both religious and secular contexts.In the religious context, Francis reportedly plans to streamline the process and speed up the grant of an annulment is certain special instances such as when there has been spousal abuse. Secular annulment in New Jersey is much harder to obtain than a divorce and, consequently, even some individuals who may qualify for an annulment may prefer pursuing a no fault divorce. For example, both parties need not consent for a divorce judgment to be entered in New Jersey, but if the defendant does not consent to a judgment of nullity after the filing of your Complaint for Annulment, then a hearing is required on the alleged ground(s) for annulment. The narrow grounds for a grant of an annulment established under 2A:34-1 are listed below:

(1) Bigamy – Remember: annulment means the marriage never happened! So having two or more spouses living at the same time is a crime in addition to a valid cause of action for annulment in New Jersey since you can't marry person B if you're already marriage to spouse A. Succeeding on this grounds, however, requires demonstrating that you were unaware of the other marriages at the time of your marriage in addition to proving the existence of the bigamy itself.

(2) Duress – Marriage requires consent. This cause of action is available when the only reason you were married was due to a threat of violence. For example, you married your spouse only because he threatened to kill your son if you refused him or her.

(3) Nonage – This might be the easiest route where it applies. In New Jersey, a legal minor (someone under the age of 18) cannot consent to be married.

(4) Incapacity – Age and duress make consent impossible as does incapacity. Anything ranging from a serious mental condition to temporary incapacity due to intoxication can make it impossible to consent and, of equal importance, an inability to understand that you're marrying.

(5) Impotence – Not every marriage results in children, either by design or other factors, but since child-rearing is traditionally a central part of the enterprise, one or both parties' inability to have children at the time of marriage, when unknown or concealed by the spouse who cannot consummate the marriage or bear children (this is key), allows the other party to obtain an annulment. 

(6) Incest –  Strangely enough, sexual relationships between adult blood relatives are not illegal in New Jersey. Marriage, however, is off-limits for blood relatives and remains a valid ground for annulment.

(7) Fraud – Certain material misrepresentations could cause a court to determine that your marriage was invalid. These misrepresentations could be lying about a desire for children, a substance abuse addiction, or even an extramarital pregnancy by another individual. Fraud might be the most challenging ground for annulment simply because it's the most fact sensitive and can require a large amount of discovery and testimony to successfully prove one's case.

There are potential drawbacks (or advantages) to annulment depending on what you hope to accomplish. For example, a party seeking equitable distribution isn't entitled to it through the annulment process since, again, a granted annulment means that the marriage never existed! So parties seeking the division of a home will need to rely on a normative contract law suit in the Civil Division in order to adjudicate disputes over personal and real property. The family court can and may, however, tackle the issues of child support and custody when children are at issue. As you can see, annulments are one of the more radical remedies available to New Jersey courts and, consequently, making sure you i's are dotted and t's are crossed is of the utmost importance. Don't leave it to chance when everything is on the line. If you or a loved one has questions regarding divorce or annulment in New Jersey, or if you also have concerns about any other type of related or unrelated family law matter, please click here to contact the child custody attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele. For a confidential consultation to discuss your situation with one of our New Jersey custody attorneys, you can also call (856) 546-1350. _______

About the Author

Matt Rooney

Practice Areas: Family Law (including Divorce, Alimony, Child Support, and Domestic Violence); Municipal Court; Personal Injury; Residential Real Estate; Civil Litigation; Collections.


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