While you might hear the terms “annulment” and “divorce” used together, they each have very different legal meanings and effects. An annulment occurs when a marriage is found to be invalid. The legal effect is to act as though it never occurred in the first place. In contrast, a divorce is the legal ending of the marriage. You’re not saying that the marriage was legally flawed, just that the marriage didn’t work out and you no longer want to be legally connected to your spouse.
Below, we discuss the key differences between annulment and divorce. We also answer common questions about annulment vs. divorce, like:
- What is the difference between legal separation vs annulment?
- Is annulment better than divorce?
- Why divorce is better than annulment in some situations?
- Can you change a divorce to annulment?
- Is divorce cheaper than annulment?
- Can you annul a marriage after divorce?
What Allows You To Annul A Marriage?
Rules about marriage vary by each state. However, the grounds to annul a marriage are usually limited, such as only in cases involving:
- Illegality – A marriage may be annulled if it was not legal at it inception, such as if you and your spouse are too closely related under your state’s laws, either one of you was still legally married at the time you entered into your marriage, or similar events that made your marriage invalid.
- Incapacity – Another possible ground to annul a marriage is incapacity. Incapacity means that a person lacked the legal ability to enter into a contract, including that of marriage. Incapacity may be due to a mental impairment that prevented you or your spouse from being able to think rationally. It can also be due to a physical incapacity that your spouse did not inform you about, such as the inability to physically consummate the marriage. Impairment by drugs or alcohol is a common reason people may request an annulment. Another form of incapacity is age. If you or your spouse was under the legal age to marry and did not have parental consent, you may be able to annul your marriage. However, in these situations, usually only the person who lacked capacity can seek the annulment.
- Fraud – Another potential ground for annulment is if your spouse lied to you or misrepresented something that was fundamental to your marriage, such as not informing you that they did not want or could not have children when this misconception was vital to the reason you married.
Is Annulment Better Than Divorce?
Most people do not have a choice between an annulment and a divorce. They are used for different purposes, and they will simply pursue the path that is available to them. However, if you do have a choice, it is important to understand the differences between annulment and divorce.
Annulment may be better than divorce in some situations. For example, if your marriage has not lasted long, you want a straightforward process, and there are not a lot of property matters to deal with, annulment may be the easier and cheaper path forward. Most states will not divide property during annulment proceedings. Even if you had children during a marriage that is later annulled, your children will still generally be considered legitimate, and the husband would still be considered the presumed father of your children.
Annulments may simplify the process because there are usually fewer issues to deal with. Also, a person may be able to receive an annulment without delays caused by reaching the minimum residency requirement or waiting period.
An annulment may have preferable legal effects regarding your property. Since annulments treat a marriage as never happening, spouses’ ownership interests in property may revert back to how they were before the marriage. Additionally, many states do not award spousal support when a marriage is annulled.
Why divorce is better than annulment will depend on your particular situation. If you want to have property rights in marital property or receive spousal support, divorce may be better able to address these objectives.
Is An Annulment Cheaper Than A Divorce?
Annulments may be straightforward and cheaper than divorce because fewer legal issues are involved. However, annulments may be more complicated and based more on fault than a typical divorce, so there is also the possibility that a divorce can be cheaper than an annulment. Getting an annulment may require an in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding the marriage, deposing potential witnesses, and requesting specific documents, and all of these things can make the process more expensive.
But, is divorce cheaper than annulment? Again, it depends. If the couple agrees on everything in a divorce, an uncontested divorce based on no-fault grounds may be the cheapest way to go. However, if there will be more legal issues to deal with or more complicated rights brought upon by the marriage, an annulment may be cheaper than a divorce.
Can You Annul A Marriage After Divorce?
Generally, you cannot annul a marriage after divorce. A divorce is considered a final decision by the court and officially closes the case. To get an annulment after a divorce, you would need to have the court set aside the divorce or vacate its judgment. Then, you would need to petition the court for an annulment. This would be a complicated process that would undoubtedly require the help of a lawyer. You may also have a limited amount of time to seek this type of relief.
Can You Change A Divorce To An Annulment?
When you file your motion to seek a divorce but later discover that you have grounds to annul your marriage, you may be able to modify your complaint and change your request to divorce to an annulment. This will depend on the rules of civil procedure where you are filing the action. You may have to get permission from the court and/or your spouse, depending on the situation and the time that has passed since your divorce filing.
How Long After The Marriage Can You Get An Annulment?
It is a common misconception that people can have their marriage annulled if they have only been married a short time, such as 30 or 60 days. However, this is not the case in most states. Instead, you must have legal grounds to get the annulment, as discussed above.
Often, you have a limited time to annul your marriage. For example, if you were underage at the time of your marriage, you may only have until your 18th birthday or a year from reaching the age of majority to annul your marriage on this ground. If some fraud or misrepresentation forms the basis of your desire to annul your marriage, you must usually file your action for annulment within a certain time frame from discovering the fraud. Otherwise, the court may assume that you accepted the fraud and voluntarily chose to stay in the marriage.
The amount of time you have to annul your marriage will be based on the reason for the annulment and the state where you live.
Divorce vs. Dissolution vs. Annulment
Some states use the terms “divorce” and “dissolution” interchangeably. Others use the term “dissolution” to mean “no-fault divorce” and divorce to mean a fault-divorce or a contested divorce. For example, the Ohio State Bar explains that a dissolution petition is not filed until the parties have reached an agreement regarding the issues involved in the case, such as:
- Designation of a residential parent
- Parental rights
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Division of property and debts
- Payment of attorney fees
No fault grounds are alleged in an Ohio dissolution case. This process can save a lot of the expense and frustration involved in a divorce.
In contrast, if a divorce is filed, the spouse seeking the divorce alleges that the other spouse did something wrong to cause an end to the marriage, such as committing adultery. Additionally, the spouse may ask the court to decide how to resolve matters between the spouses if they cannot agree on them.
An annulment often alleges misconduct, such as that one spouse forced the other into the marriage or made a material misrepresentation. However, in this type of case, the person seeking the annulment is not asking to end the marriage. Instead, they are asking the court to recognize that the marriage was never legally valid.
Annulment vs. Separation
A legal separation does not legally end a marriage. Instead, it asks the court to acknowledge that the spouses are living separately and asks the court to make certain orders regarding matters between them, such as child support, alimony, debt allocation, and the use and division of property. The couple is still legally married.
If a couple receives an annulment, they are no longer legally married.
Does Alimony Exist With Annulments?
Most states do not award alimony with an annulment, but they will order child support. Some states do still award alimony even if a marriage is annulled.
Religious Annulment vs. Legal Annulment
To further complicate matters, there is also such a thing as a “religious annulment.” A religious annulment does not typically have a legal effect. However, it might allow a member of the congregation to be looked upon more favorably or to remarry within the faith.
Annulment vs. Divorce In the Catholic Church
One common example of a religious annulment vs. divorce is how the two are treated in the Catholic church. Catholics generally do not support divorce and believe the basic tenet that what God has bound together should not be broken by man. If a couple was Catholic, got married in a Catholic church, and then divorced, the Catholic church may not allow them to get married again in the Catholic church. However, if the innocent spouse sought a religious annulment to nullify a marriage with someone who committed adultery on them, the Catholic church may allow the innocent spouse to remarry in the faith. While the innocent spouse would be able to legally marry someone else after a divorce, they may only be able to remarry within the Catholic church if they obtain a religious annulment. An annulment in this scenario is a declaration by the church that the marriage lacked a necessary element to be valid under the church’s doctrine.