Is It Better To Get a Divorce or an Annulment?

Ending a marriage is never easy

By Kimberly Lekman, Esq. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on March 31, 2023

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Annulments and divorces both end a marriage and allow spouses to remarry. However, there are some key differences between the two:

  • An annulment has the legal effect of completely canceling a marriage; after an annulment, it is legally as though the marriage had never happened in the first place
  • A divorce, by contrast, dissolves a marriage

There may be financial, religious, or personal advantages to an annulment for you. However, you cannot choose an annulment unless there is a valid legal reason for it.

Generally speaking, you need to show that the marriage was legally invalid at the outset to succeed in your request for an annulment. The grounds for legal annulment are covered in more detail below. To learn more about a religious annulment, you should reach out to your religious leaders.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Divorce is the more common method for ending a marriage. You do not need to give specific reasons for a divorce. Instead, you can just cite “irreconcilable differences.” So, divorce is the appropriate method for ending a legally valid marriage. As part of your divorce, you will need to split up any marital property that you or your spouse acquired during the marriage.

If your marriage was invalid, you might prefer an annulment over a divorce for a variety of reasons:

  • Spouses who legally annul their marriage don’t usually have to pay alimony or spousal support
  • The division of property is more straightforward in annulment than in divorce proceedings
  • In an annulment, the property is usually returned to the original owner or divided as equitably as possible
  • If you had a prenuptial agreement in place, you probably would not be bound by its terms if you annul the marriage

However, state laws vary, and the details of your situation will affect how a judge rules on your annulment. It would be wise to talk to an experienced divorce attorney to understand the legal ramifications of an annulment in your situation.

After an annulment, you will be considered “single,” not “divorced.” Although an annulment might be preferable in your situation, you can only get one if specific legal grounds for annulment exist.

To obtain an annulment, you must show that you have valid legal grounds for one. If you want to end your marriage but do not have grounds for an annulment, you must seek a divorce instead.

One common reason for an annulment is fraud. For instance, if your spouse claimed to be someone they were not, this can be grounds to claim your marriage was void from the start.

Another reason people get annulments is that one of the parties coerced the other into getting married. Imagine, for example, that someone threatened to harm you if you did not marry them. In this case, you did not consent to the marriage freely, which makes the marriage null and void.

Other common grounds for annulment include:

  • Age: one or both of the parties were below the legal age of consent (underage) at the time of the wedding and did not receive parental consent.
  • Bigamy: If one of the spouses was already married when the wedding took place, there was no valid marriage.
  • Impotence: Impotence can be grounds for annulment, but usually only if the other spouse was unaware of it at the time of the wedding.
  • Incest: People who are too closely related are not permitted to get married in the first place.
  • Concealment: Closely related to fraud, concealment occurs when someone hides something significant about themselves from their spouse. Examples include a history of drug abuse or a criminal record.
  • Intoxication: One or both spouses was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and therefore could not give consent to the marriage.
  • Mental capacity: One of the spouses could not legally consent to the marriage due to a mental condition. The condition does not need to be present at the time of the annulment, but it must have been present at the time of the marriage. Some conditions that fall into this category include brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of mental incapacity. The key aspect here is that the mental condition must have prevented the person from understanding the contract of marriage. Mental weakness or depression are usually not grounds for an annulment.

If you think you have valid legal grounds for an annulment, it would be wise to seek legal advice from a family law attorney as soon as possible. Your state laws might place a time limit on your ability to annul your marriage.

Time Limits for Annulment

The time limits on your ability to file an annulment will vary from state to state. The limitations also depend on the grounds of the annulment. If the statute of limitations has passed, a judge will likely bar you from obtaining an annulment, and you will need to divorce instead.

In the case of marriages that are “void,” you can usually get an annulment at any time as long as both spouses are still alive. If the spouses were close blood relatives or one of the spouses was married at the time of the wedding, the marriage is considered void from the beginning. Under those circumstances, there is usually no time limit on an annulment.

The marriage might not be void in other cases, but it may be voidable. For example, suppose you got married and later discovered that your spouse had lied about their extensive criminal record. In that case, you can seek an annulment on grounds of fraud and concealment. However, your state’s statute of limitation might require you to file for the annulment within a certain period of time after learning of the fraud.

An experienced local divorce attorney can help you understand whether you qualify for an annulment and whether the statute of limitations has passed. Because these statutes of limitation can be relatively brief, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice and begin annulment proceedings as soon as possible.

How Can an Attorney Help?

Ending a marriage can be one of the most stressful times in your life. In addition to concluding a significant relationship, there are legal hassles and financial issues to consider.

Whether you annul your marriage or file for divorce, an experienced family law attorney can walk you through the legal proceedings and can advocate for your best interests.

If you are considering an annulment, your attorney can help assess whether you have valid legal grounds to do so and can initiate the legal process on your behalf. If you choose divorce instead, your attorney can facilitate a negotiation between you and your ex-spouse. This negotiation can resolve property division issues, child custody arrangements, child support payments, and more.

Your lawyer and their law firm staff can then prepare and file the necessary paperwork to finalize your agreement and guide you through the divorce process.

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