Annulment Versus Divorce

The differences between an annulment and a divorce.

Is the Annulment Process Like Getting a Divorce?

There are two types of annulments: civil and religious. Religious annulments are granted by a church and do not terminate a legal marriage. A civil annulment, on the other hand, ends your marital status. Your state can issue a civil annulment if you meet the legal requirements. You must request this type of annulment through your local court, the same way you would file for divorce.

The two procedures are not that similar in terms of the outcome. With an annulment, a court will conclude that your marriage was invalid or void from the beginning. With a divorce, a court recognized your marriage as legal, but then terminates your marital status, while deciding issues of property, support, and child custody.

There are some similarities between the process of an annulment and a fault-based divorce. The spouse seeking an annulment has to prove that the other spouse was at fault. In an annulment action, one spouse must prove that the other spouse’s actions make the marriage void. In a fault-based divorce, the spouse seeking a divorce must show that the other spouse caused the breakdown of the marriage. By contrast, no-fault divorces require less time and evidence than an annulment. You can seek a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, which require no evidence that either spouse was at fault.

What Are the Grounds for Obtaining an Annulment?

Each state has its own rules, but the most common grounds for an annulment are the following:

Underage

Either spouse can seek an annulment if one spouse or both spouses was under the legal age of consent (generally 18) at the time of the marriage. Once the underage spouse turns 18 however, both spouses waive their annulment claim if they continue to live together.

Bigamy

It’s illegal to be married to two people at the same time. If your spouse was still married at the time you were wed, you can seek an annulment on bigamy grounds.

Unsound Mind

You can file for an annulment if either you or your spouse was too impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of your marriage. A judge will also grant an annulment if either spouse lacked the mental capacity to adequately consent to the marriage.

No Consummation of Marriage

One spouse can file for an annulment if the other spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse and did not disclose this fact at the time of marriage.

Fraud or Misrepresentation

Fraud occurs when one spouse hides or misrepresents an essential fact of the marriage such as the ability to have children or significant financial debts. Spouses waive their right to claim marriage fraud if the innocent spouse found out about the fraud but did not immediately separate from the offending spouse.

Will an Annulment Affect Child Custody and Support?

An annulment essentially erases a marriage, but it won't affect a child's right to financial support or the legitimacy of any children born during the marriage. A husband is the presumed father of any children resulting from a marriage, regardless of whether it ends in a divorce or an annulment. Additionally, child support awards aren't affected by an annulment. Most states have issued their own child support guidelines that are based upon the parents’ income and time with the children, not their marital status.

You are waiving your right to spousal support if you seek an annulment instead of a divorce. A divorce dissolves a marriage, whereas an annulment invalidates a marriage. Spouses can’t ask for spousal support as a result of an invalidated marriage.

If you have more specific questions about the implications of an annulment on property, support, and child custody issues, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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