What is the Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment?

annulment vs divorce
People Images/Creative RF/Getty

If you have decided to end your marriage and do not want a separation (the legality of which varies by state), you have two legal options: divorce and annulment. There are many misconceptions about getting an annulment versus getting a divorce.

Divorce dissolves, terminates, ends a legally valid marriage.

Annulment erases a marriage by declaring the marriage null and void and that the union was never legally valid. However, even if the marriage is erased, the marriage records remain on file. Furthermore, a religious annulment is not a legal dissolution of a civil marriage.

A divorce ends a legal marriage and declares the husband and wife to be single again.

An annulment ends a marriage that the parties believe should never have take place because of unknown facts (a voidable marriage). Alternatively, an annulment ends a marriage if the marriage was not legal to begin with (a void marriage). This might occur if the marriage broke a law such as in committing bigamy or incest.

"An annulment just turns back time so that the act of marriage never happened." What is the Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce?" by Duane L. Coker on CokerLegal.com. 
 
"The main benefit of annulment is the law treats the marriage as if it never existed. It's over, and there are no further issues to deal with. Divorce, on the other hand, may mean involvement with your ex-spouse for years to come on issues such as support, property division and raising children. Annulment isn't for everyone. Only a small percentage of those who are married can even qualify for one." Can This Marriage be Annulled? by lawyer, Lina Guillen, on Lawyers.com.
 
"When it comes to finances, the difference is stark ... When a marriage is annulled, the courts usually try to restore each party to his or her original financial state before the marriage occurred." in Annulment vs. Divorce: The Financial Differences on TheStreet.com (2009).
 
 "One common misconception is the length of time that a couple has been married determines whether or not the marriage qualifies for an annulment. This is completely untrue. Annulments are only granted when the marriage is void or one spouse misled the other spouse regarding a material fact prior to the marriage." Common Questions and Misconceptions About Divorce by Monica Cameron on VentureStreet.com.
 
"Annulments are granted based upon very limited statutory grounds such as fraud, duress, mental incapacity (intoxication), failure to consummate and incidents which involve prohibited marriages such as bigamy or close blood relatives. The length of the marriage is irrelevant when it comes to annulments." Common Misconceptions About Colorado Family Law by Kathy A. Higby on HigbyLaw.com.
 
 "One step to consider before you commence an annulment case is retaining a lawyer. The reality is that annulment laws and procedures are complex. Your interests likely are best protected through representation by an experienced attorney. The American Bar Association maintains consumer resources to aid you in locating an attorney in your area." in Steps For Getting An Annulment by Mike Broemmel on LiveStrong.com (2010).

 

In regards to a religious annulment, the same concepts apply. But in this case, according to the FindLaw.com website, "The Catholic Church, a diocesan tribunal, rather than a court of law, decides whether the marriage bond was less than a covenant for life, because it was lacking in some way from the very beginning." One partner or the other must prove that the marriage was majorly lacking in some way.

Examples include a lack of maturity, honesty, emotional community and so on. 

 

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This text should not be regarded as legal advice. Consult an attorney familiar with marriage and family law and your own personal circumstances for legal advice regarding civil annulments.

Differences Between Annulments and Divorces

ActionAnnulmentDivorce
Marriage ExistedNoYes
Short Time to File - 1-2 YearsYes - UsuallyNo
Children Considered LegitimateYesYes
Division of PropertyNoYes
AlimonyNoPossible
Difficulty Level LegallyYes - HighUsually No
Grounds SpecificYesNo
Marital Status Result AfterwardsSingle or UnmarriedDivorced
Witness and Proof RequiredYesNo

 

*Article updated by Marni Feuerman