There are two legal options to dissolve a marriage or domestic partnership, annulment and divorce. Despite the both being ways to end a marriage, they have significant differences. The grounds for requesting an annulment, and the sort of evidence required, differ from those for obtaining a divorce.

But what is an annulment? How else does it differ from a divorce? This article will explore the basics of annulment by defining it, specifying the legal grounds required, and examining its repercussions.

What Is Annulment?

An annulment is a legal procedure that can be used in both secular and religious legal systems to declare a marriage null and void, implying that it never existed in the eyes of the law. Although annulment is uncommon these days, the annulment procedure is available if the necessary legal grounds are present. 

Unlike divorce, annulment is usually retroactive, which means the marriage is deemed illegitimate from the start, almost as if it never happened. In legal terms, annulment renders a marriage void and voidable marriage null (sometimes also called nullified marriage).

Depending on the state, you must file a request to nullify a marriage within a specific deadline.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Both divorces and annulments have the same outcome: they end the marriage. The primary distinction between divorce and annulment is that divorce terminates an existing, lawful marriage, whereas annulment maintains that the marriage never existed in the first place. 

An annulment can be granted if specific grounds have been established. Divorce, however, doesn’t need to be justified. Each state has either fault or no-fault divorce, and the divorce process is significantly faster in certain states than in others.

Fault Divorces

A fault divorce is issued only when one spouse can provide valid grounds against the guilty party. The most common reasons for divorce are adultery, physical and emotional abuse, desertion, addiction, criminal conviction, and incurable mental illness. As for legal annulment, these grounds differ by state, although there are some similarities.

No-Fault Divorces

A no-fault divorce is the dissolution of a legal marriage without proving the cause of the divorce or either spouse being identified as the guilty party, meaning no side takes responsibility for it. Many states now provide no-fault divorce. Certain states, however, require a period of legal separation before allowing no-fault divorce. Citing irreconcilable differences is a common claim for a no-fault divorce.

Religious Annulment

Getting approval from religious leaders to have an annulment or divorce is usually an entirely separate process from the legal one, as the legal and religious grounds differ. However, both annulments have the same effect: the marriage is treated as if it never happened.

Religious rulings sometimes affect one, both, or none of the parties involved. They determine whether someone has permission to marry again within the religion or engage in other religious ceremonies.

A court of law may consider religious marital status. Still, it’s not required to respect religious rulings when deciding on cases related to property disputes, spousal support, or other legal concerns.

In the United States, the laws regarding annulment vary from state to state. Although the reasons for obtaining it may differ, so do the criteria that may disqualify a person for an annulment. The following are common grounds for annulment, at least one of which must be established in court:

  • Duress or lack of consent - An annulment may be sought by one or both spouses who were coerced or threatened into marriage.
  • Bigamy - One of the spouses was already legally married to someone else at the time of the marriage, so an annulment was requested.
  • Fraud - One of the spouses is tricked into marrying the other spouse by lying or concealing crucial facts about them, such as criminal background history, pregnancy by another partner, age, or a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Marriage between relatives - All states forbid marriages between children and their parents, including grandparents and grandchildren, as well as between first cousins, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and a half and whole blood brothers and sisters.
  • Underage marriage - Most states have marriage age requirements. If one or both spouses are under the legal age to marry, the marriage may be annulled.
  • Mental incapacity - An annulment may be requested by a person who is not legally capable of consenting to marriage due to mental disease or disability, including impairment caused by intoxication.
  • Impotency or physical inability to consummate the marriage - The spouse requesting annulment must demonstrate that the other spouse was impotent or unable to consummate the marriage and that the person seeking annulment did not discover this until after getting married.

It’s vital to remember that some states, such as Florida, do not have laws regarding annulment. Under Florida law, any marriage that can be voided can be annulled. Let’s take a look at how certain states handle annulment laws.

Annulment in California

The grounds for annulment, the time frames for annulment requests, and the numerous circumstances in which the state would not recognize a marriage are all governed by California’s annulment and prohibited marriage laws.

In the Golden State, certain types of marriage, such as bigamy or incestuous marriages, are illegal and thus void. 

A judge may rule that marriage is not lawful, referred to as voidable marriages in certain instances. You must file an annulment request within a set time frame for some of these grounds. For example, in circumstances of fraud, you must present the annulment request within four years after finding out about the situation. For duress, you must file the request within four years of marriage.

Annulment in Texas

In Texas, if the spouses have children who were adopted or born during the marriage, you’ll have to file a suit to establish custody of the children. Custody proceedings thus involve the Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) and are included in the annulment.

An annulment might have long-term ramifications for the people involved, especially if it involves children or properties. The Texas Family Code contains the annulment statutes in its sixth chapter.

To request an annulment, the spouses have to be married in Texas or one of the spouses must reside there. The annulment cost can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, similar to the cost of getting a divorce in Texas. An annulment case can be filed where the married parties lived or where a significant portion of the marriage occurred. 

Annulment Outcomes

Annulments can result in a variety of outcomes, whether they be good or bad. These are some of the legal rights you may lose following the annulment:

  • Succession rights - If your former partner dies, you are no longer legally entitled to a share of their estate.
  • Marital property rights - After getting an annulment, if your partner is the legal owner of the property you share, they may sell or lease it without your approval. 
  • Father’s guardianship rights - Fathers are only granted guardianship rights if they can demonstrate that they genuinely believed that the marriage ceremony was valid and whether the child was born before or within ten months of the annulment order.
  • Alimony, maintenance, or spousal support - You will not receive any financial support. Child support, on the other hand, may be approved.

In the case of an annulled marriage, you lose your rights as a married person, but you are free to marry again without going through the divorce process.

Final Thoughts

Familiarizing yourself with your state’s laws is the best method to learn your rights in the event of marriage dissolution. This way, you can decide whether an annulment or divorce is suitable for your situation. Even if you understand everything, hiring a qualified attorney to guide you through this process will make your life easier.

The duration and simplicity of your divorce or nullity of marriage will be determined by your specific circumstances and the legislation of your resident state.