Divorce and annulment are two distinct processes for legally ending a marriage or domestic partnership. For example, the type of evidence required for an annulment versus a divorce is different.
The primary distinction between divorce and annulment is that a divorce dissolves a legally valid marriage, whereas an annulment declares a marriage legally invalid.
Divorce is the legal process by which a legally valid marriage is dissolved, terminated, and ended. Divorce annuls a legal marriage and reverts the spouses to single status.
Annulment: A legal procedure in which a marriage is declared null and void, indicating that the union was never legally valid. However, even if a marriage is canceled, the marriage records remain on file.
What Are the Legal Grounds for Annulment vs. Divorce?
The legal term for the basis of an action—the reasons for which a decision is justified—is “grounds.” There are a number of reasons why a divorce should be sought rather than an annulment. The primary reason for divorcing is for one or both spouses to desire separation.
When the parties admit to the existence of the marriage, they seek a divorce, which is far more common. An annulment is sought when one or both spouses believe the marriage was legally invalid in the first place.
Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
Adultery, incarceration, and abandonment are all frequent causes of fault divorces. In a no-fault divorce, neither party must establish that the other is at fault. Every state recognizes divorce without regard for fault. Frequently, the term “irreconcilable differences” is used to justify a no-fault divorce.
Regardless of the type of divorce, the divorcing couple may continue to disagree over property, finances, child custody, and other matters requiring court intervention. In fault divorces, the non-fault party may receive a larger settlement.
An annulment is a legal procedure that ends a marriage that at least one party believes should never have occurred. Although the legal grounds for annulment vary according to state, they typically include the following:
- One or both spouses may have been coerced or duped into marriage.
- One or both spouses were unable to marry due to a mental disability, drugs, or alcohol.
- One or both spouses were already married at the time of the marriage (bigamy).
- One or both spouses were under the marriage age.
- This union was incestuous.
- One spouse attempted to conceal a serious issue, such as substance abuse or a criminal record. One is a child, while the other is an illness.
An annulment is far less common than divorces, owing to the fact that one of these conditions must be met and established in court before it can be granted.
Both types of divorce can be time consuming and costly in the courtroom. And they both begin with the filing of a formal divorce or annulment petition with the court by one or both spouses.
If both parties agree to end the marriage without major disagreements or disagreements over how to do so, either a divorce or an annulment can be straightforward and inexpensive.
When Should You Annul vs. Divorce?
Due to the brief duration, many believe that a very brief marriage can be annulled. However, a brief duration does not constitute a legal ground for annulment. The marriage must still meet one or more of the conditions listed above in order to be annulled.
Additionally, a long-term marriage may be ineligible for annulment. Many states will not grant an annulment after a certain period of time has passed. For example, in California, an annulment based on fraud must be requested within four years of the fraud’s discovery (one partner alleges that the other deceived them into agreeing to the marriage).
An annulment may be sought immediately following the conclusion of a marriage. In some states, however, a couple must be married or in a committed relationship for a specified period of time (typically one or two years) before filing for divorce. In some states, both parties must live apart for a specified period of time before filing for divorce.
After Divorce or Annulment
Several distinctions exist between the two types of divorce: After an annulment, the marriage is deemed to have never occurred legally. It’s as if the clock has been reset to pre-marriage time. Former spouses may continue to owe one another obligations following a divorce, such as spousal support and property division.
Following a divorce, spouses frequently have the right to spousal support, alimony, or a share of the other’s profits or property acquired during the marriage.
In contrast, when a marriage is annulled, the parties are no longer considered valid spouses and do not have the same rights. Rather than that, they will revert to their pre-marriage financial situation.
Children of an annulled marriage are still considered “legitimate” (i.e., not born to unmarried parents). In some states, however, the assumption of parentage changes, and the judge must determine the parentage of the children as part of the annulment process.
The court and/or the state may then determine custody and support obligations in the same way that they would in a divorce proceeding (or immediately in states where the assumption does not change). Even if their parents’ marriage is deemed invalid, children continue to be entitled to both parents’ support.
Excommunications from Religion
Numerous religious traditions regulate divorce and annulment. Permission is frequently granted through religious clergy or written guidelines. Typically, the process of obtaining permission from religious leaders for an annulment or divorce is separate from the legal process.
Frequently, the rules governing divorce and annulment in your religion will dictate whether one, both, or neither of the partners is permitted to remarry within the religion, in a religious ceremony, or in other religious rituals.
While a court of law may consider religious marital status when deciding on spousal support, property disputes, or other legal issues, it is not required to do so.
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