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Annulment vs. Divorce: What’s the Difference?

Updated: September 23, 2020

Legally ending a marriage can happen one of two ways — through annulment or divorce. While each process dissolves a marriage, there are important procedural differences and outcomes that set the two far apart.

In this article:

Divorce Statistics (Including Annulment)

  • Marriages: 6.5 per 1,0001
  • Divorces: 2.9 per 1,0001
  • Divorce rate: 39%2

Annulment and Divorce, Defined

Annulment: Legal decree that states that a marriage was never valid to begin with. After an annulment, the marriage becomes void, and it is as if it never existed.

Divorce: The termination of a marriage through the court, which requires a petitioning party or a complaint.

How Do I Get an Annulment?

An annulment essentially wipes the slate clean and treats a marriage as if it never existed (although there will still be some legal record of the marriage). But not so fast — not everyone can get their marriage annulled, and requirements vary by state. However, it’s generally accepted that one of the following conditions must be met in order to obtain annulment:

  • Fraud/coercion – someone may have been conned into entering the relationship, or one or both spouses entered the marriage under duress (in a way that was forced)
  • Incest – marriage between close relatives 
  • Incapacitation – if one or both spouses was mentally incapacitated and was legally unable to consent to the marriage, such as if an individual was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or possessed an incapacitating mental illness
  • Concealment – one or both spouses may have concealed major issues such as a criminal record, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy by or with another, etc.
  • Bigamy – one spouse was already married
  • Underage marriage – one or both spouses were not of legal age to marry
  • Citizenship – a spouse got married only to receive citizenship

Annulment and Length of Marriage

Many people believe that if they are married for a short period of time, they can get their marriage annulled simply because of its brevity. But this is not the case — one of the above factors must also be met. States do have varying time limits for annulment. In some states, you may have only a few months to get your marriage annulled (along with one of the above conditions being met).

Why Get an Annulment?

There are some advantages to getting an annulment instead of a divorce, and the dominant factor is that it is as if you were never married. Some prefer to get an annulment for religious reasons, and there is typically no alimony or division of property after annulment — things simply revert back to how they were before the marriage. There may, however, be some exceptions, especially involving custody of minor children.

What Are Grounds For Divorce?

When New York allowed no-fault divorces in 2010, they became the last and final state to do so. A no-fault divorce means that you do not have to prove any wrongdoing, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment, in order to legally dissolve a marriage. However, states usually have a minimum amount of time that you must be married before being able to file for divorce. You may even have to wait for years.

Unlike an annulment, anyone legally married in the United States that wishes to get a divorce is able to do so. In most states, a no-fault divorce can be filed by one spouse even if the other spouse does not agree to divorce.

Only 5%1 of couples have a prenuptial agreement in place to protect their assets if they divorce.

Key Differences Between Annulment and Divorce

Annulment

Divorce

Marital status Single Divorced
Did the marriage exist? No Yes
Time before ability to file None Varies, could be years
Division of property No Yes
Reason/proof required Yes No (no-fault)

Video: Annulment and Divorce, Explained

Sources

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/marriage-divorce.htm
  2. https://familyinequality.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/the-coming-divorce-decline/
  3. https://www.oceansidedivorcelawfirm.com/prenup/prenuptial-agreement-statistics/

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