Differences Between Divorce and Annulment - ABH Mediation
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Differences Between Divorce and Annulment

While laws and restrictions about divorce and annulment vary from state to state, the primary difference between getting a divorce and having a marriage annulled is that a divorce ends a legal marriage. In contrast, an annulment voids a marriage so that in the eyes of the law, it’s as if the marriage never took place.  Also, the divorce residency requirements do not apply, the petitioner just needs to live in California.

Annulments nullify marriages that weren’t legal from the start, or they annul legal unions that aren’t legitimate in some way.  There are two types of annulments: a civil/legal annulment, which a family court grants, and a religious annulment, which the Catholic Church grants under its religious doctrine. To be remarried in the Catholic Church, an annulment must be granted that voids the prior marriage. While an annulment allows someone to remarry within their church, others may seek to have a marriage annulled to avoid the stigma of having a divorce on their record.

It may be difficult to get annulments granted through the family court system.  You do not get an annulment based simply on wanting one or the fact that your marriage was very short, to have the court grant an annulment, one of the follow specific grounds must be proven:

  • Fraud or Misrepresentation: If a marriage is proven to be based on lies that profoundly negatively impact the marriage’s foundation, the court may rule fraud as sufficient grounds for an annulment. Lies can be omissions, such as your spouse concealing their inability to have children; finding out your spouse married you solely to gain citizenship; or that your spouse is a convicted felon.  These are some serious lies that may serve as grounds for annulment. 

  • Bigamy: If one spouses was legally married to someone else when they got married, the other spouse has grounds for an annulment. This may happen when one party does not complete a legal divorce action and a divorce judgment was never entered by the court, making that party still technically and legally married. Unsuspecting victims of a bigamist are also eligible for an annulment.

  • Impotence: If it is learned during the marriage that one spouse is irreversibly impotent and this information was not known before the marriage, the other spouse has grounds for an annulment.

  • Duress: If one of the spouses was forced into the marriage, whether by threats or violence, and they did not enter the marriage willingly, by their own choice, they are eligible for an annulment.

  • Incompetence: If both parties were not mentally sound, sober, and capable when the marriage took place, it might be voided. Both parties must be mentally competent (and not under a conservatorship), and they must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when getting married. If one of the parties is physically disabled to such an extent that they are not mentally capable of getting married, this is grounds for an annulment.

Each state’s annulment laws are different. Most annulments occur after people are married for a short time, typically just a few weeks or months. There are usually no assets or debts to divide or children to determine custody, child support, and visitation for in these cases.

However, if one spouse in good faith thought the marriage was legal and is found to be a putative spouse by the court, the court can divide property and debts and order spousal support. 

If the parties have minor children, the court can make orders about custody, visitation and support. 

Evidence must prove that the marriage meets the court’s criteria to grant an annulment. The outcome is the same in both instances: whether a divorce or an annulment gets granted, both parties are declared single and are free to remarry.