Like a divorce, an annulment is a court procedure that dissolves a marriage. But, unlike a divorce, an annulment treats the marriage as though it never happened. For some people, divorce carries a stigma, so they prefer to have their marriage annulled. Others choose annulment because it may be easier to remarry in their church if they go through an annulment rather than a divorce.
There are two types of annulment: civil annulment (granted by the state government after a court proceeding) and religious annulment (granted by a church).
Grounds for civil annulment vary slightly from state to state, but generally, an annulment requires that at least one of the following reasons exists:
Fraud or misrepresentation. One spouse concealed or lied about something that was essential to the marriage, like the ability to have children.
No consummation of the marriage. One spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse, and the other spouse didn’t know it when they got married.
Incest. The spouses are too closely related by blood so that their marriage is illegal under the laws of the state where they married.
Bigamy. One of the spouses was still legally married to someone else at the time of the alleged marriage.
Underage. One of the spouses is under the age of consent.
Unsound mind. One or both of the spouses was too impaired by alcohol or drugs at the time of the wedding (or didn’t have the mental capacity for some other reason) to understand what was happening and give consent to the marriage.
Force. One of the parties was forced into getting married.
Most annulments take place after marriages of a very short duration -- a few weeks or months -- so there are usually no assets or debts to divide, or children for whom custody, visitation, and child support are a concern.
When a long-term marriage is annulled, however, most states have provisions for dividing property and debts, as well as determining custody, visitation, child support, and alimony. Children of an annulled marriage are not considered illegitimate.
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To learn more about annulment laws in your state, see Alternatives to Divorce on DivorceNet.com (part of the Nolo network of legal websites).
Within the Roman Catholic Church (and other religious institutions), a couple may obtain a religious annulment after obtaining a civil divorce, so that one or both people may remarry within the church and have the second union recognized by the church. The grounds for a religious annulments are different than for civil annulments.