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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in New Jersey

Individuals can lawfully terminate their marriages by divorce or annulment in New Jersey. Both civil court procedures will end a marriage but while a divorce dissolves a proper marriage or civil union, an annulment nullifies a marital union that is illegitimate. Generally, it is quite difficult to get an annulment because certain facts must be sufficiently proven before a marriage can be canceled, and those facts are few. The Family Division of the Superior Court hears divorce and annulment cases within the state. Before deciding to get an annulment or divorce, it may be necessary to meet with a lawyer to discuss legal rights and options.

What is a New Jersey Divorce Decree?

A New Jersey divorce decree is the final order of a Superior Court authorizing the dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership. Also known as the Final Judgment of Divorce, it contains a judge’s decision about the divorce and divorce-related matters. This includes visitation arrangements, custody orders, child/spousal support orders, and debt/assets division. The divorce decree will also contain information on the parties involved, the date when the final judgment was issued by the court, and change of name order.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What is an Annulment in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, a civil annulment reverses a marital or civil union and treats it like it was never entered. Typically, a Superior Court will only issue an annulment decree upon specific grounds. These grounds are more limited than those of divorce. Like divorce, a court may award custody or order child support. Per N. J. S. A. 2A:34–23, rehabilitative, permanent or temporary alimony orders may be issued by the court as well.

The most frequent reason why spouses petition for annulment is to avoid the social stigma and financial responsibilities that come with divorce. As such, annulment records are not accessible to the public in New Jersey. Availability of any annulment record will defeat the reason why spouses seek an annulment or why the courts grant it, which is to dissolve a marriage like it does not and never existed.

Annulment vs Divorce in New Jersey

How an annulment ends a marital or civil union is different from the way a divorce ends it. Generally, the annulment nullifies the union and declares it never to have been contracted. While a divorce ends a marriage without reversing it. Though the court procedure on obtaining a divorce or annulment is similar, the grounds to be established, residency criteria, and remedies awarded to spouses, differ.

Typically, before either can be granted, the following grounds must exist:

Grounds for Annulment in New Jersey (N. J. S. A. 2A:34–1):

  • Bigamy
  • Incest
  • Incurable impotence
  • Incapacity because of a mental condition or inebriation at the time the marriage took place
  • Fraud
  • Duress
  • Under the legal age of 18 when the marriage occurred

Grounds for Divorce (Dissolution Cases) in New Jersey(N. J. S. A. 2A:34–2):

  • Adultery
  • Intentional desertion for 12 months or more
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Continuous separation for 18 months or more
  • Drug addiction and habitual intoxication
  • Mental illness
  • Imprisonment for 18 months or more
  • Sexual conduct of a deviant nature
  • Irreconcilable differences

As seen above, the grounds for divorce and annulment are very different. The reasons for annulment are more limited and specific. Meanwhile, divorce grounds give spouses more leeway especially when the ground stated is irreconcilable differences, North Carolina’s no-fault ground.

Another difference between the two is the residency criteria. The law requires all parties who want to file for a divorce to be residents for at least one year before filing an action. However, per N. J. S. A. 2A:34–9, there is no waiting period to obtain an annulment. Rather, the petitioner only has to be a bona fide resident.

Finally, legal protections/considerations. In annulment proceedings, a judge may order child support, visitation, and custody, and in a few scenarios, alimony. It is not possible to obtain a court order for equitable distribution of marital property if it is not a divorce case. Although each party retains what belongs or belonged to them when the marriage was contracted, the court may divide properties under contract law. In contrast, divorce proceedings do not have such restrictions.

Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce In New Jersey?

Whether the cost to dissolve a marital or civil union will be higher or lower primarily depends on if there are objections to the case, or facts of the case, that will prolong court proceedings. The cost of annulment is not less than that of a divorce in New Jersey but it cannot be said that it is greater either. This cost differs on a case-to-case basis. For example, an uncontested divorce, which is usually less expensive versus an annulment, where litigation is required to prove grounds and which may be expensive. Also, when the divorce issues involve children (custody, support, visitation), or there is complexity in proving the grounds of annulment, then the cost of litigation will be more considerable.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in New Jersey?

An uncontested divorce, in simple terms, is a type of civil litigation where spouses completely agree on all essential terms of their divorce, including spousal support, child support, debt/asset division; or the defendant fails to respond in writing to a complaint within 35 days from the date served. Per N. J. Court Rule 5:1–4(a)(3), divorce proceedings will be expedited (resolved speedily) if the following conditions are met:

  • The divorce is uncontested
  • There are no disagreements over valuable assets or income, or over custody or parenting time (visitation)
  • Both parties have signed a property settlement agreement
  • The time that both parties have been married or had a civil union for is not up to 5 years, and there are no children of the marriage

Where to Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in New Jersey

To begin an uncontested divorce in New Jersey, the plaintiff must inform the Clerk of Superior Court that the divorce is not contested at the time of filing. That person is required to file the forms below, including:

  • Complaint for Divorce/Dissolution
  • Certification by Self-Represented Litigant and Dispute Resolution Alternatives (fillable form)
  • Confidential Litigant Information Sheet (CLIS) (fillable form)
  • Certification Verification and Non-collusion
  • Certification of Insurance
  • Certification of Redaction of Personal Identifiers
  • Family Part Case Information Statement (CIS) (fillable form)
  • Certification of No Pending Proceeding

The defendant will be required to file a General Appearance or Acknowledgment of Service verifying that there will be no contest. Filing costs $300 and filing an answer costs $175. An additional fee of $25 must be paid by persons who have kids. This fee is to attend a mandatory Parents’ Education Program. These forms and other required forms can be obtained from a local Superior Court Ombudsman in the courthouse. In addition, persons who cannot afford the fees can file the Request for Waiver of Fees and Supporting Certification, and Order Waiving Fees forms.

In New Jersey, records of court proceedings regarding uncontested divorces are available to the public on request per the Open Public Records Act and rules of the court, N. J. Court Rule 1:38–1 et seq.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in New Jersey?

New Jersey divorce decrees (Final Judgment of Divorce) of active and closed cases are maintained by the courthouse where the divorce was finalized. Whereas the final judgment of closed and archived cases are maintained by the Superior Court’s Records Center in Trenton. To request copies of active or closed cases, individuals may contact the local courthouse in the county where the judgment of divorce was entered. Requests to the Records Center must be made with the Records Request Form for a fee. This form can be submitted by email, in-person, or by mail. The address for mail and in-person submissions is available on the Clerk of Court’s website. The Records Center can also be contacted at (609) 421–6100 for more information on obtaining these records. It costs $25 for a certified copy of a divorce decree.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Do I Get a New Jersey Divorce Decree Online?

Mainly, requesters can only make online submission requests for New Jersey divorce decrees that have been closed and archived and in the maintenance of the Superior Court Records Center, as explained below.

The Records Center maintains closed and archived records for a specific number of years which may vary by county. To know if a record is available at the Records Center, a requester may search the Dissolution Files Inventory using a case docket number. Typically, a case docket number has 7 or 9 digits and an FM or M prefix. Instructions on searching this inventory are available on the Superior Court’s Divorce Records page. Persons who do not have the docket number may contact the Records Center at (609) 421–6100 to obtain this information. Callers will be required to provide a rough estimate of the year of the divorce filing, names of parties to the case, and the county of divorce. Once it is determined that the Records Center has custody, a requester may use the Records Request Form to purchase a copy of a divorce decree for a fee. This form should be submitted via the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS). Instructions on using this platform and Frequently Asked Questions are available online.

While individuals can obtain divorce decrees in most cases, the Superior Court Clerk’s Office still provides divorce certificates at a $10 fee. A divorce certificate has the names of parties involved, county of divorce, case docket number, date of final judgment, and the Superior Court’s seal.

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