While divorce merely ends the marriage, an annulment declares the entire marriage void, as though it had never happened. Grounds for annulment are stricter than grounds for a divorce. Unlike separation, divorce and annulment both completely dissolve the marriage and free the spouses to remarry.
What is Annulment and Divorce?
An annulment is a legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void. If an annulment is granted, the marriage is considered invalid from the beginning. So it's as if the marriage never took place.
A divorce is a legal procedure through which a valid marriage is dissolved.
In the following video, an attorney explains the differences between an annulment and a divorce:
Grounds for annulment
- misrepresentation or fraud
- concealment of facts, like already married or underage
- lack of consummation
- was forced to get married
- the spouses are closely related
Specific examples can include being brother and sister, being married to another person at the time of the wedding, insanity precluding ability to consent, lack of intention to stay faithful to spouse when marrying, abduction, or the influence of drugs or alcohol when the marriage took place.
Cases where a spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol must be filed with 60 days of the marriage ceremony. In general, the time limit on annulments varies from state to state and even from county to county. However, the permitted time frame (e.g. 6 months) usually begins when the reason for annulment was discovered, and not when the marriage itself took place.
Grounds for Divorce
All US states now allow for "no fault divorce," meaning that couples can simply cite “irreconcilable differences” or incompatibility as a reason for their separation.
Both parties must agree for a "no fault" divorce. In cases where both spouses do not agree, either one can file for an "at fault" divorce. The grounds for an "at fault" divorce include adultery, habitual alcohol abuse, and desertion. The laws vary by state.
In most states, individuals must file the same petition form for both an annulment and a divorce.
The petition for an annulment must be filed in the current county of residence. If the spouse contests the annulment, a hearing will be scheduled in which the parties can present evidence on whether the qualifications for an annulment have been met. If so, the judge issues an order declaring the marriage void.
In order to divorce, individuals must fulfill the “separation requirement,” meaning that they live in different locations at all times for a certain period of time before the divorce is finalized. Any assets gained during this time belong to the individual, not the couple. Once the requirement is met, an individual can file for divorce. During the filing, they must list items that may be contested, such as the residence, cars and other shared possessions. The spouse is notified and can either sign their agreement or file for a trial. If they do not respond, the complaint is granted. If they file against the divorce, a temporary hearing is set up to establish temporary child or spousal support, after which there may be a long wait before the divorce goes to court, where child custody, financial issues, child support and spousal support will be settled.
Differences in Financial Outcomes
In case of divorce, assets of a married couple are usually divided equitably as determined by a judge, unless a prenuptial agreement stipulates otherwise. Assets acquired during the marriage are considered community property. On the other hand, in case of an annulment, the courts usually make an attempt to restore both spouses to their original financial state.
Alimony and Child Support
In a divorce settlement, a judge may order one spouse to make alimony payments to another to support the lifestyle they had before marriage. Several factors determine the amount of alimony such as the length of the marriage, the difference in wages earned and the way in which assets are divided. Alimony payments are almost never required when a marriage is annulled.
Child support payments may also be stipulated depending upon which spouse has custody of the children. All states require divorcing parents to submit a parenting plan, and child support is paid by the parent who does not end up being the child’s primary carer. Child support and custody agreements in an annulment are handled similar to a divorce.