Understanding Your Options: The Difference Between Divorce, Annulment, and Separation

If you are thinking about ending your marriage, but the idea of getting divorced seems like a scary jump to make, you’re probably wondering whether there are any other legal options. You’re not alone. We are frequently asked about the differences between divorce, annulment, and separation in New Jersey.

A divorce is a court’s legal dissolution (or end) of a marriage. It does not require the consent of both spouses. There are various grounds for divorce, including but not limited to adultery, extreme cruelty, abandonment, and the most commonly used ground of irreconcilable differences. The divorce ultimately resolves all issues regarding custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, and the division of marital assets and debts. Thereafter, both parties are free to remarry.

Annulments are frequently misunderstood. There are two types – religious and civil. A religious annulment occurs when a church declares that a marriage was never lawful within the rules of the church. A divorced person may seek a religious annulment in order to remarry within the faith. A civil annulment carries entirely different consequences. Unlike a religious annulment, which petitions a church or other religious body, a legal annulment is sought from a court of law. It is appropriate in very limited circumstances. There are various grounds for a civil annulment, including but not limited to bigamy, fraud, underage, and lack of mental capacity. The basic difference between a civil annulment and divorce is that an annulment voids a marriage as if it never existed. On the other hand, a divorce ends a legally valid marriage.

New Jersey’s form of “legal separation” is a “Divorce from Bed and Board.” This is also known as a “limited divorce.” It requires the consent of both parties. Even after a court grants a Divorce from Bed and Board, neither party may remarry. However, either party may request the court to convert the Judgment for Divorce from Bed and Board to a Final Judgment for Divorce. This “conversion” requires the party seeking the conversion to file additional paperwork. One main reason parties request a Divorce from Bed and Board is because it allows a spouse to stay on the other spouse’s health insurance policy because the parties are technically still married. However, health insurance companies are restructuring policies to prevent this. For this reason, I caution my clients in seeking a Divorce from Bed and Board for the sole purpose of maintaining a spouse on a health insurance policy.

It is important to understand that New Jersey’s version of “legal separation” is very different than how other States treat the concept. As described above, the process of obtaining a Divorce from Bed and Board in New Jersey closely parallels the divorce process. On the other hand, in California, a spouse can simply file a petition for legal separation before making a decision to divorce. The legal separation would take effect immediately, whereas a divorce would take much longer.

Regardless of whether you are considering a divorce, an annulment, or a Divorce from Bed and Board, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney at Ruvolo Law Group, LLC, to discuss your circumstances. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Based on your specific circumstances and situation, one of our attorneys can help you weigh your options and decide which option is best for you and your family.