In the US, there are two means by which a marriage can be legally ended: annulment and divorce. While they both result in a dissolution of the marriage, the circumstances under which each can be executed and the outcomes of the proceedings are very different.
What Is an Annulment?
An annulment is a process by which a marriage is dissolved entirely and treated as though it never happened in the first place. An annulment is only an option if the marriage was, for some reason, never valid in the first place due to one or more of the persons involved not being legally allowed to marry or if the marriage was entered into under false or fraudulent pretenses.
Examples of situations in which an annulment could be considered include:
- One or both parties were not of legal age at the time of the marriage
- One or both parties were already married to another person
- One party committed fraud or omitted important information to secure the marriage (for instance, a groom fails to disclose a prior felony conviction)
- One party is infertile or impotent and failed to disclose that information prior to the marriage
After the annulment proceedings, the marriage is ended, and both parties return to status quo ante, or the state that existed prior to the marriage. Assets are divided according to ownership prior to the marriage, and neither party has a claim to assets that were owned by the other before they were married.
The one notable complication to annulment proceedings is the introduction of children. In those cases, child custody and support issues are handled separately, similar to custody and support proceedings during a divorce.
What Is a Divorce?
In a divorce, a marriage is ended but is still recognized and acknowledged afterward. Depending on circumstances and the determination of fault (in an at-fault divorce), assets may be distributed according to a court determination without consideration of ownership prior to the marriage.
Divorces can be at-fault or no-fault. Most divorces today are no-fault, meaning that no one party was responsible for the breakup of the marriage, and “irreconcilable differences” are typically given as the reason for the dissolution.
In an at-fault divorce, one party’s actions are determined to be primarily responsible for the marriage ending and can include reasons such as:
- Improper use of shared assets
In these cases, the court will usually provide the injured party with a larger share of the couple’s shared assets and look more favorably on their claims to child custody/support and spousal support.
Regardless of a determination of fault or no-fault, the dissolved marriage remains recognized by the state and the courts as having once been a legal, binding marriage.
While the result of both proceedings is the termination of a marriage, the processes and conditions for each are very different. Since all states in the US recognize no-fault divorces, a divorce is almost always easier to obtain than an annulment. But, if a couple meets the requirements for obtaining an annulment, the process is usually faster and does not affect each individual’s assets from before the marriage.
No matter the process chosen, ending a marriage is difficult. Turn to the skilled attorneys at EMC for help.
Our attorneys are experienced with both divorce and annulment law and will act on your behalf to help ensure you’re properly and fairly represented throughout the process. Tell us about your situation today: 770-225-7000