Annulment vs divorce is an important topic for married couples as both legal processes have a similar consequence: ending a marriage. While any marriage can be ended by divorce, annulment isn’t applicable to all marriages. Each of these processes has its legal justifications and implications.

Before we go further into this topic, let’s begin by looking at what each process entails.

What Is Annulment?

Annulment is the process by which a marriage is formally declared legally invalid. While annulment ends a marriage by declaring it null and void, the records for marriage remain on file. Marriage annulment can either be civil or religious.

Civil Annulment

Normally, it is a judge who grants a civil annulment, and it essentially ends your marriage. Either party may file a petition to request annulment of their marriage. The court will then consider the grounds for annulment to determine whether to grant or deny the request.

Each state provides a set of requirements for annulment requirements, but the commonest grounds include:

– Bigamy

You can’t enter into a marriage while legally married to another person. You could request a wedding annulment by the court based on bigamy grounds if your spouse was legally married to another person when you held your nuptials.

– Underage Marriage

You can also request an annulment of marriage if you or your spouse had not attained the age of majority when you entered into your marriage. In most states, both parties must be at least 18 to get married.

In some states, a person aged between 16 and 18 can marry with the parent’s consent. If the marriage happened without the parent’s consent, it could be voided on the grounds of underage marriage.

However, both spouses relinquish their claim for annulment when the underage party turns 18 and if they still live together.

– Mental Incompetence

If either spouse lacked the mental capacity to make a decision to marry, you can seek an annulment. It is likely that you or your spouse had a mental disability or was impaired by drugs or alcohol when the marriage took place. Also, the law provides that a spouse lacking the mental capability of providing consent or understanding the marriage doesn’t qualify for marriage.

– Impotency

If the husband is incurably impotent and didn’t inform the other party prior to marriage, the spouse can seek an annulment.

– Incest

In incestuous marriages, spouses are closely related, either by blood or any other family relation. If you find out that you are closely related to your spouse, you have a valid reason for annulment.

– Fraud/Misrepresentation

Another valid reason for the annulment of marriage is fraud. When a spouse misrepresents or lies about an important element of the union, including owing substantial financial debts or having children in a previous marriage, this amounts to fraud.

However, a spouse may not cite marriage fraud or misrepresentation if the innocent party failed to separate from the guilty spouse immediately after discovering the fraud.

– Concealment

Where one of the spouses hides a major fact in the marriage, such as drug addiction or a felony conviction, then the other spouse can request a marriage annulment.

In some states, there are time limits attached to annulment laws. If these time limits lapse, spouses can’t file an annulment. In most cases, these limits are not dependent on the length of your marriage. Instead, the deadlines for requesting an annulment are dependent on the reason for the annulment.

In Colorado, for a spouse who wants to annul their marriage on the grounds of fraud, the length of their marriage isn’t a valid consideration. The most important thing is when they discovered the fraud:

The law provides that such spouses have to file for annulment not later than six months after finding out about the fraud.

Spouses who wish to annul their marriage on the grounds of bigamy can do so any time before they die. If such a spouse dies, their estate can annul their marriage.

State laws on the annulment of marriage are different. It is important that you go through your local laws to establish whether you have a valid reason and whether there are time limits that affect your situation. Keep in mind that you can still file a divorce even if you missed an annulment deadline.

Religious Annulment

It is granted by a religious tribunal or church. While an annulled marriage, whether through civil or religious means, is treated as though it never existed, religious annulments don’t end a legal marriage.

If a church grants a religious annulment, this doesn’t promise that a civil annulment will be granted by a judge. Similarly, a civil annulment granted by a court of law may not be recognized by a church or religious tribunal.

Burden of Proof

To annul a marriage, the spouse that requests the annulment bears the burden of proof. Such a spouse shoulders the responsibility of proving the grounds for annulling the marriage.

If that spouse proves that the invalidation of their marriage is justified, then annulment is granted. If the requesting spouse fails to provide enough evidence or prove the validity of the reasons for requesting an annulment, then a court may not grant the request.

What Is the Difference Between Annulment and Divorce?

Divorce refers to the legal termination of marriage. In contrast, divorce doesn’t void your marriage. Instead, it terminates your marital ties with your spouse. Every state has its set of rules that govern divorce matters.

Today, all states allow spouses to file a no-fault divorce, which means that they can file a divorce petition without proving who was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. In some states, spouses can file fault-based divorce petitions, citing reasons for ending their marriage, such as adultery, desertion, or cruelty.

Besides how they happen, divorce and annulment are differentiated by the processes that follow. After a divorce, ex-spouses may still have obligations to each other and their children. The processes below further indicate the difference between annulment and divorce.

Property Division

The law identifies your marriage as a valid union in the case of a divorce. As such, a judge has to split marital assets and debts.

In contrast, there’s no property division in an annulment since the marriage is treated as though it never happened. This means that the marriage doesn’t have marital property or debt to split.

Alimony (Spousal Support)

Given that annulment voids or erases a marriage, it takes away the right of a spouse to request spousal support. By requesting an annulment, you essentially waive your legal right to seek spousal support or alimony from your spouse. If you need financial support and are looking to end your marriage, a divorce would be the most appropriate instead of an annulment.

Effect of Divorce and Annulment on Child Custody and Child Support

Marriage annulment doesn’t change the right of a child to receive financial support from the parents. Regardless of whether they are married or not, parents are still responsible for providing financial support to their children. Legally, a husband remains the father of a child born during the marriage, irrespective of whether the couple’s marriage was terminated through annulment or divorce.

Essentially, an annulment invalidates a marriage, but the legitimacy of children born during the marriage remains intact. When a couple annuls their marriage, they have to make a decision regarding child custody and support. This decision will be made based on the same state laws that appertain to other marriages.

Courts in most jurisdictions will apply the child support rules as provided by the state’s laws. These will help to determine the financial responsibilities of each parent, as well as make a decision that is in the best interests of the child when deciding custody.

Similarities Between Divorce and Annulment

So far, we’ve looked into a few things that differentiate annulment and divorce. While these two processes are different, annulment and divorce are somewhat similar because they are both legal ways to end a marriage. Parties who have obtained an annulment or a divorce have one thing in common:

They are single and eligible to marry another person.

Also, a spouse who seeks an annulment has a burden of proof similar to a spouse seeking a fault-based divorce.


Both annulment and divorce result in the dissolution of marriage.

But how is divorce different from annulment?

Below, we look at the main things to recall in the annulment vs divorce discussion:

  • Annulment is the invalidation of a marriage that didn’t meet the legal requirements, while divorce is the termination of a legal marriage
  • Every state has its laws on annulment, but the most common grounds include bigamy, mental incompetence, underage marriage, impotency, incest, concealment, and fraud
  • There are two kinds of annulment: civil or religious
  • While annulment is grounds-specific, divorce is not since spouses can file a no-fault divorce
  • Unlike divorce, an annulment doesn’t provide for property division or alimony
  • Annulment and divorce don’t affect child custody and support since children born during the marriage are considered legitimate

Divorce and annulment are processes that put a legal end to a marriage. While there are differences between the two, spouses that go through any of these processes are single and free to remarry.

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