A marriage annulment is a legal process for terminating a marriage. Similar to divorce or legal separation, a marriage annulment officially dissolves a marriage between two lawfully married people.

What Is the Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce?

The difference between a divorce and an annulment is that an annulment is a legal procedure that terminates a marriage between a husband and a wife. Annulling a marriage is like the marriage never occurred and it is completely erased. Legally, it declares that the marriage never technically existed and was never valid.

A divorce is the ending of a valid marriage between a man and a woman returning both parties to single status, but with the legal acknowledgment that the marriage did exist at one point. While each individual state has its own laws regarding grounds for marriage annulment or divorce, certain requirements apply nationwide.

When Is Annulment Used?

Annulment is most commonly used in instances where the entire foundation of the marriage is problematic. An example of this is where a person misrepresented their age to the other partner at the time of marriage. Another example is where a person misrepresents their ability or willingness to have children in the future. Most annulments are based on situations where one partner would not have married the other if they had known the actual truth of the situation.

Annulment is best performed shortly after the marriage occurs, or shortly after the facts leading to annulment are discovered. Typically, one of the following requirements must be met for an annulment to occur:

  • Fraud or Misrepresentation: One or both of the spouses lied about something and the marriage was induced because of the misrepresentation
  • Concealment: One or both of the spouses hid a major fact that was required to be disclosed before marriage
  • Misunderstanding: There was a misunderstanding concerning a substantial reason why the marriage was entered
  • Mental Incapacity: One of the spouses did not have the required mental capacity to enter into the marriage contract
  • Consent: One of the spouses was below the legal age of consent
  • Force or Threat: One of the spouses entered the marriage as a result of force or threat

What Happens to Property in a Marriage Annulment?

Division of assets in an annulment generally follows the state guidelines for property distribution in a divorce. That is, if the state follows community property guidelines, the spouses are typically entitled to half of the property that is jointly owned by both parties. If the state observes different rules for property distribution, these will likely be applied in the annulment hearings.

Sometimes, distribution of property is not an issue at all for some annulments if the couple has only been married for a very short period of time. However, disputes over property distribution can sometimes make the annulment process more complicated.

What If There Were Children Conceived or Born Prior to the Annulment?

Since an annulled marriage has no validity, it is as if the children that were born in the marriage were born to single parents. If a child is conceived or born during the marriage, then you will need to establish paternity of your children in order to collect child support, get visitation, and determine custody of the child.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Marriage Annulment Issues?

Every state has different laws when it comes to family law issues such annulment, divorce, and legal separation. You may wish to hire a family law lawyer if you need assistance with a marriage annulment filing. Your attorney can represent you during court hearings and can provide you with legal advice that can help make the process easier.