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Annulment Compared with Divorce

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What's an Annulment?

An annulment is one way to have a marriage or union legally extinguished. It is very similar to divorce in many respects, except that is considered “retroactive” in nature - that is, annulment treats the marriage like it never existed, and thus has effects going back in time to the start of the marriage. They are generally more common for shorter marriages rather than marriages that have lasted for a long time. 

How Does an Annulment Compare with Divorce?

In some cases, it’s much easier to get a divorce than to get an annulment. For example, some states have no-fault divorce laws, meaning that a couple can get divorced even if neither party was at fault. On the other hand, annulment must usually be based on factors like:

  • Misrepresentation or fraud in the original marriage documents (for example, one of the partners lied about their age)
  • Concealment of important facts related to the marriage
  • Refusal/inability to consummate the relationship
  • Misunderstandings regarding the marriage circumstances

Thus, a main requirement for an annulment is that there needs to be some reason as to why the marriage would be considered void.  In comparison, divorce usually has more to do with the inability of the partners to reconcile differences during the marriage. 

When Is an Annulment Preferable over a Divorce?

There are two main factors that would make an annulment preferable over divorce. These include:

  • Distribution of property: In an annulment, it’s as if the couple was never married. Thus, they won’t be subjected to marital property requirements, such as the ½ rule associated with community property laws. Each partner will be allowed to keep the property that they entered into the marriage with.
  • Remarrying: In some religious contexts, it’s more preferable to have a record of annulment rather than a divorce. For example, in some religions, it may be easier to remarry after an annulment compared with divorce. 

Again, each person’s needs will be different in every case. Sometimes, a divorce may be preferable over an annulment, and vice-versa.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an Annulment or a Divorce?

It may be confusing trying to understand how annulments work. It’s in your best interest to hire an experienced family lawyer if you need help with an annulment or a divorce. Your lawyer can tell you the different consequences of each option and can help represent you during court hearings. Annulments can have major effects on other issues like property distribution and child custody; an experienced family attorney can also provide advice on those issues as well.

Photo of page author Adam Vukovic

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 05-04-2018 02:12 AM PDT

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