When you are seeking to end a marriage or domestic partnership legally, there are two potential options – divorce and annulment. The most significant difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce ends a legally valid marriage and declares the spouses to be single again; an annulment, however, declares the marriage null and void and deems that the union was never legally valid.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between divorce and annulment. In our next installment, we will discuss Florida annulment more in depth.
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Important to Note: Religious-based annulments do not qualify as a legal dissolution of a civil marriage.

Annulment vs. Divorce – What are the Legal Grounds?

Legally speaking, “grounds” provide the basis or reason for an action. The grounds for ending a marriage are typically that one or both spouses want to leave the union.

A divorce is relevant when both parties acknowledge that the marriage exists. Common grounds in “fault divorces” may include adultery or abandonment. But in a no-fault divorce – such as in Florida, where no-fault is the norm – neither party must prove fault for the divorce to be granted. “Irreconcilable differences” are the most common grounds in a no-fault divorce.

An annulment is appropriate when one or both spouses believe that an aspect of their marriage was legally invalid. The legal rules for obtaining an annulment vary from state to state, but in most cases, one or more of the following scenarios must be true.

  • One or both spouses were tricked or forced into marriage
  • One or both spouses were incapable of deciding to marry due to a mental disability or drug addiction
  • One or both spouses were already married (bigamy).
  • One or both spouses were not of legal age to marry.
  • The marriage was proven to be incestuous.
  • One spouse concealed a significant fact (criminal past or substance abuse.)

Duration of the Marriage: Annulment vs. Divorce

It is a common misconception that a marriage can be annulled if the parties have only been married a short time. But brief duration is not considered legal grounds for an annulment. One or more of the conditions listed above must be applicable for the marriage to be annulled.

Post-Annulment or Divorce: Another difference between the two dissolution methods is that annulment “turns back the clock” – legally, the marriage never happened. After a divorce, however, the spouses typically still have obligations to each other in the form of spousal support or shared property. Two of the most significant categories that must be considered post-annulment or divorce are:

Finances: Post-divorce, spouses may be entitled to spousal support, alimony, or a portion of each other’s property gained during the marriage. Because an annulment posits that the parties were never valid spouses, they will revert to the financial position present before the marriage.

Children: If a couple has children and their marriage is annulled, the children are still legally considered “legitimate,” that is, they were born to married parents. The court or the state can evaluate and determine custody and support requirements, just as in divorce. Children are always entitled to the support of both parents, even if the marriage is deemed invalid.

Annulment or Divorce? That is the Question

There is no “better” option when deciding between annulment or divorce. Both dissolutions have the potential to be expensive and legally complicated. Both can also be affordable and simple if the parties have minimal disputes or disagreements.

Both divorces and annulments are legal proceedings and require the guidance of a legal professional. If you have any questions about your options, you should speak with a family law attorney. Richard V. Ellis is an experienced family law attorney with decades of experience helping couples in the Sarasota area through difficult times.