An annulment is a legal procedure that invalidates a marriage. An annulled marriage is erased from a legal perspective, and it states that the marriage never technically existed. Most states have their own regulations regarding grounds for marriage annulment or divorce, but certain requirements apply nationwide.

An annulment case can be initiated by either party in a marriage. The party starting the annulment process must prove that he or she has the grounds to do so and if it is proven, the marriage will be considered null and invalidated by the court.

The list below describes some off the list of common grounds for annulment:

  • Bigamy – Either party was already married to another person at the time of the marriage;
  • Forced Consent – One of the spouses was forced or threatened into marriage and only entered into it under duress;
  • Fraud – One of the spouses agreed to the marriage based on the lies or misrepresentation of the other;
  • Marriage Prohibited By Law – Marriage between parties that based on their familial relationship is considered incestuous;
  • Mental Illness – Either spouse was mentally ill or emotionally disturbed at the time of the marriage;
  • Mental Incapacity – Either spouse was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the marriage and was unable to make informed consent;
  • Inability to Consummate Marriage– Either spouse was physically incapable of having sexual relations or impotent during the marriage and;
  • Underage Marriage – Either spouse was too young to enter into marriage without parental consent or court approval.

Similar to annulment cases, each state has its own set of rules regarding divorce. In the majority of divorce cases, marital assets are divided and debts are settled. If the marriage has produced children, a divorce proceeding determines custody of the children, visitation rights and spousal and child support issues as well.

What Is the Legal Definition of Divorce?

A divorce, or legal termination of a marriage, is the ending of a valid marriage, returning both parties to single status with the ability to remarry. Each state can consist of either a no-fault divorce or a fault divorce. A no-fault divorce permits the dissolution of a legal marriage with neither spouse being named the “guilty party” or the cause for the marital break-up. Recently, many states offer the no-fault divorce option, a dissolution of a legal marriage in which neither party accepts blame for the marital break-up. In the absence of a guilty party, some states mandate a waiting period of a legal separation before a no-fault divorce can occur.

What Is a “Fault” Divorce?

A “fault” divorce is only granted when one spouse can prove sufficient grounds. Similar to an annulment, these grounds differ from state to state, however, there are some common themes. These guidelines can include addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling, incurable mental illness, and conviction of a crime.

The major grounds for divorce are:

  • Adultery – One or both spouses engages in extramarital relationships with others during the marriage;
  • Desertion – One spouse abandons the other, physically and emotionally, for a lengthy period of time and;
  • Physical or Emotional Abuse – One spouse subjects the other to physical or violent attacks or emotional or psychological abuse such as abusive language, and threats of physical violence.

Your local jurisdiction and particular situation will determine whether or not your annulment or divorce will be simple or complex.

How are Annulments and Divorce Similar?

The two procedures are not that similar in terms of the results. With an annulment, a court will conclude that your marriage was invalid or void from the start. It means that if the court grants you an annulment, it will treat your marriage as if it never existed. With a divorce, a court recognizes your marriage as legal but then ends your marital status. Additionally, it will need to resolve issues of dividing marital property and debt, awarding child and spousal support, and determining child custody.

Moreover, there are some similarities between the process of an annulment and a fault-based divorce. The spouse trying to obtain an annulment has to prove that the other spouse was at fault. In an annulment action, one spouse has to prove that the other spouse’s actions make the marriage void. In a fault-based divorce, the spouse obtaining a divorce must demonstrate that the other spouse caused the marriage’s breakdown.

By contrast, no-fault divorces mandate less time and evidence than an annulment. You can seek a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, which nevertheless require no evidence that either spouse was at fault.

How is Divorce and Annulment Different?

The basic difference between annulment and divorce is that an annulment establishes that a legal marriage never happened, while a divorce terminates a legal marriage and returns both parties to single status with the legal right to marry again. For example, in Texas divorce laws allow avenues for division of property, while an annulment does not.

Moreover, Texas is a community property state, which means any assets or debts accumulated from date of marriage through date of divorce are subject to just and equitable division. If you were never legally in a marital relationship, as an annulment legally claims, you have no avenue or right to make a legal claim on the other party’s property. An annulment also provides no legal pathway to divide property you purchased together.

The question of property division could make it challenging to get an annulment. For instance, it is difficult to obtain an annulment in Texas if both parties do not agree to it. However, when one party has both money and property and the other has little to nothing but wants a piece of the other party’s property that party has an incentive to fight for a divorce over an annulment.

If during the marriage, you and your spouse had children together, the court will consider a child’s best interest as their primary concern. Therefore, whether you are pursuing an annulment or a divorce, a judge will decide on child support, custody, and visitation. But keep in mind there can be differences between divorce and annulment when it comes to the issues of spousal support and distribution of your property. In a divorce, these are more common topics of discussion. However, not necessarily in an annulment proceeding.

Whether a court will address alimony and property distribution in an annulment depends on the local justification regulations. There are states that will permit you to make an application for both, while some may allow one but not the other. Other states may not allow the courts to rule on either issue.

Will an Annulment Affect Child Custody and Support?

An annulment essentially erases a marriage, but it does not affect a child’s right to financial support or the legitimacy of any children born during the duration of the marriage. A husband is the presumed father of any children resulting from a marriage, regardless of whether it is terminated in a divorce or an annulment.

It is important to note that child support awards are not affected by an annulment. Majority of the states have issued their own child support guidelines utilizing a calculator that evaluates the parents’ income and time with the children, not taking into account their marital status. For instance, you waive your right to spousal support if you seek an annulment instead of a divorce. A divorce ends a marriage, whereas an annulment invalidates a marriage altogether. Spouses cannot request for spousal support as a result of an invalidated marriage.

When Do I Need To Contact a Lawyer?

If you want to decide between an annulment or even a divorce it is important to be aware of the distinctions between them. Each case is unique and requires understanding of the particular laws in your local state. Therefore, it is important to seek out a family lawyer near you to assist you with the process.