When a marriage stops working, there are other options to consider besides getting a divorce. A legal separation or an annulment are viable alternatives. People whose religious beliefs prohibit them from getting a divorce can make use of annulment as an alternative. For instance, the rules of your religious creed might prohibit remarrying after divorce. Getting an annulment can be a solution to clear the way for a new marriage.

What Is an Annulment?

You'll encounter two kinds of annulments in the real world: civil and religious. The former will end your marriage in the eyes of the state, but can only be obtained if you satisfy the criteria. Similar to proceedings for divorce, an annulment can only be granted by the courts. You can receive a religious annulment from the central institution of your faith. However, authorities of your faith can not issue annulment to finish the marriage in the eyes of civil law.

What Is a Divorce?

A legal process when your marriage is legally resolved and ended by the courts is called a divorce. States usually have legal conditions that you have to satisfy before you're allowed to get a divorce. A no-fault divorce is a widely used procedure that is available in all states. It describes the situation when neither of the spouses blames the other for the failure of the marriage. Some states still allow the filing of fault-based divorces. This is the case when one of the former partners states that the other spouse was responsible for the breakup.

Are Annulments and Divorces the Same?

As similar as they may look, annulments and divorces are quite distinct. Annulment is granted only if the courts decide that the marriage was practically inoperative. Therefore, if your marriage is annulled, the fact of it ever taking place will be ignored. Validity of the marriage is recognized in divorce proceedings. The goal of divorce cases is to end an existing marriage. When handling a divorce case, courts must also come up with the correct way to divide marital property, designate family support duties, and make decisions related to child custody.

The aforementioned fault-based divorce is similar to an annulment in multiple ways. It is the partner's burden who wants to get his/her marriage annulled to provide proof of the other party's wrongdoing. The person who seeks annulment must make an argument to show that his/her spouse's actions are severe enough to nullify their marriage.

Similar to an annulment, the initiator of a fault-based divorce must prove that the other spouse was responsible for the breakdown in a relationship. No-fault divorce is much simpler than both – fault-based divorce and an annulment. You must provide a reason to seek a no-fault divorce, which can be something as simple as irreconcilable differences.

The end result of the two procedures can be different.

Differences Between Annulments and Divorces

Difference

Annulment

Divorce

The amount of time that has to pass before you can start the proceedings

No limit immediately permitted

1-2 years, varies by state

Acknowledgment of marriage after proceedings are over

No

Yes

Children have legitimacy

Yes

Yes

Marital property division

No

Yes

Family support payments

No

Possible

The difficulty of meeting legal requirements

High

Usually low

Depends on the circumstances

Yes

No (for no-fault divorces)

Marital status after proceedings are over

Single or unmarried

Divorced

Obligatory to present witnesses and proofs

Yes

No (for no-fault divorces)

Grounds for Annulment

There are several valid reasons for getting your marriage dissolved by means of an annulment. You must prove that one of the circumstances was involved: fraud, lying, absence of sexual act between the partners, incest, bigamy, forced marriage, mental problems, or other kinds of force. Most of the time, you'll need a lawyer to go through with the annulment. On the other hand, getting a no-contest divorce might not require significant legal assistance. Every state has different conditions for an annulment. These are the most common reasons:

Underage

Either of the spouses being underage at the time of marriage is a valid reason to seek an annulment. However, once both partners become legal adults and continue living together, they are no longer entitled to marriage annulment.

Bigamy

According to US law, one person is limited to having only one marriage. If your partner was somehow already married at the time of your nuptials, you can easily get an annulment on bigamy grounds.

Unsound Mind

If you have proof that either one of the spouses was heavily influenced by alcohol or drugs during their marriage, you can use it to get your marriage annulled. You can also seek an annulment if you can prove that either one of the partners was mentally impaired and couldn't consent to the marriage.

No Consummation of Marriage

If one of the spouses was unable to perform his duties as a wife or a husband and failed to disclose his inability before getting married, the other spouse can ask for marriage to be annulled.

Fraud or Misrepresentation

Hiding of important details that could affect your marriage, such as the existence of children from other marriages or having financial obligations, can be considered as fraud. However, if you intend to annul your marriage based on this reason, you must react immediately or you lose the right to claim marriage fraud.

Unlike divorce, marriage annulment removes any possibility of receiving further spousal support.

If there were no instances of such events in your marriage, you might struggle to get a judge to agree to give you a civil annulment. You'll still have the option of getting a religious annulment, but it will not change your legal status as a spouse to a certain person.

Religious Annulments

In order to qualify for a religious annulment, you need to satisfy different criteria than those for civil annulment. Post-annulment treatment of marriage is similar for both types: it is treated as if it never took place.

Representatives of the Catholic Church hold a diocesan tribunal to decide if the marriage was a legitimate covenant for life. If not, it can be declared void in the eyes of the church. Either partner can get the marriage annulled, provided that he/she supplies needed arguments for doing so. The most common reasons are immaturity, lying, or emotional instability. If the tribunal deems the marriage to be illegitimate from the beginning, both spouses can proceed to marry someone else in the Catholic Church. Similar to civil law, an annulment does not undermine the legitimacy of the children who were born as a result of the marriage.

Are You Entitled to an Annulment?

Was it the case of bigamy, when one of the people is already married to another person?

Yes _____ No _____

Is there any chance you and your spouse could be related?

Yes _____ No _____

Is it possible that your mental capacity was affected by a mental illness?

Yes _____ No _____

Was either one of your mental capacity limited by the influence of drugs or alcohol while you were getting married?

Yes _____ No _____

Were you, or your spouse forced to get married, perhaps under duress while doing so?

Yes _____ No _____

Is one of the partners physically incapable of performing sexual acts while refusing to get help?

Yes _____ No _____

Was there a sexual act involved throughout the duration of the marriage?

Yes _____ No _____

Were you, or your partner underage at the time of getting married?

Yes _____ No _____

For underage spouses, did your parents consent to your marriage?

Yes _____ No _____

 

Was the female partner expecting a child from another male at the time of marriage?

Yes _____ No _____

Did either one of you lie about your identity, or hid certain facts about yourselves, such as your faith or past criminal deeds?

Yes _____ No _____

Were you unable to satisfy the legal requirements for marriage?

Yes _____ No _____

Each state has different prerequisites for granting an annulment. Educate yourself on the annulment laws and conditions in your state. You can also seek legal aid to facilitate the process.

Will an Annulment Affect Child Custody and Support?

After annulled, a marriage will be treated as if it never existed. However, children who were born under this marriage are still entitled to financial support and familial legitimacy. A husband is considered a default father of the children born during a marriage, regardless of how the marriage ultimately ended.

An annulment doesn't influence child support awards. In most states, child support is calculated based on how much the parents earn and time spent with the kids. The marriage status is not as important.

You will be unable to receive spousal support if you ask for an annulment instead of a divorce. A divorce acknowledges the legitimacy of the marriage, while an annulment does not. Therefore, former spouses can not ask for financial support after getting an annulment.

Final Words

Before actively going after an annulment, we recommend that you thoroughly understand the laws in your state regarding this issue. Annulments are only practical in very few situations and should not be the default option for people who want to end their marriage. Get the help of a family law lawyer to better understand applicable laws in your state and determine your eligibility.