A person considering a marriage annulment or divorce

What is the Difference Between a Marriage Annulment and Divorce?

A marriage annulment may seem like a thing of the past, but the legal process is still very much alive and could be an alternative to divorce.

Annulment of a marriage can take place in both religious and secular societies, although it may be more common in the former. To put it simply, an annulled marriage is a marriage that never happened. It’s void, or voidable, when the marriage took place. Marriages can be considered void for several reasons. But a divorce recognizes that, although the couple is now legally separated, the marriage did take place and was valid at the time.

If you’re thinking about ending your marriage, it’s important to note that laws surrounding a marriage annulment can vary greatly, both from country to country and even within nations. Laws within the US and the UK, for example, differ from each other.

What is an annulment?

Not all places have such a thing as a marriage annulment, and where they do, the laws, processes, and reasons a couple might seek a voided marriage vary greatly. In Wales, for instance, there are restrictions on marriage annulments, and they must normally take place within three years of the date of marriage. In the US, annulments occur for reasons like fraud, bigamy, duress, underage marriage, marriage between close relatives, and mental incapacity (even mental incapacity caused by intoxication, in many states).

Time is also a factor. Normally—although not always—an annulment takes place within the first few years of the marriage. It makes sense that if misrepresentation (see below) is a reason for annulment, that the couple would separate soon after discovering the misrepresentation rather than remaining with a partner. On the other hand, the choice to remain in the marriage could make annulment more difficult, as one partner did consent to remain in the relationship rather than separating. A court may view divorce as a more viable option in this case. But again, it depends on location. In New York state, a marriage could be voidable if there was substantial misrepresentation up to three years after it was discovered.

The history

It may be considered unjust that while a divorce is available to all, annulments are only available to some. The notorious Henry VIII had many marriages annulled, after all. But even in modern times, the examples that come to mind tend to be celebrities (Britney Spears, anyone?) and not so much the everyday people we interact with in our daily lives. But a marriage annulment isn’t available to only the rich and powerful.

Historically, in countries with heavy religious backgrounds or where divorce is not legal, this may be (or may have been) the only option. In some religions, a tribunal must decide whether a marriage was “in some way lacking from the beginning.” The principal is broadly similar—the marriage was not valid at the time; therefore, it is not valid now.

Who may get an annulment as opposed to a divorce?

Although religion does play a part (for example, those with dissolved marriages in the Catholic church can remarry in the church), this is not always the case.

If a partner is dishonest about any of the following: current marital status, having children with a previous partner, intentions of having children (or lack thereof), having a sexually transmitted infection at the time of marriage, criminal history, religion, or any other substantial fact, these could all be treated as grounds for annulment rather than divorce (depending on location). Once again, it comes down to whether the other person would have agreed to the marriage, having known the facts, at the time. Or if a partner was aware of the situation but induced the other partner into thinking that they were happy to proceed with the marriage despite those facts (an example might be a woman who was aware of a man having fathered children with previous partners, only to change her mind later).

Is it necessary or a thing of the past?

The result could be the same. If a married couple who divorces has children, divorce proceedings would decide things like custody, visitation rights, etc. as well as dividing the couple’s assets.

In the case of annulment, let’s say for misrepresentation, the courts may look more favorably at the partner who was misrepresented. The misrepresented facts normally must be substantial (as previously mentioned: dishonesty about marital status, children from previous relationships, criminal history, sexually transmitted infections, religion, or fraud). Misrepresentation is often one key difference between annulment and divorce.

The local or national laws in your area are most likely to dictate whether a marriage annulment is possible for you and what rights partners who have annulled marriages might have. While some may argue that annulments are a thing of the past or only relevant in religious societies, others will argue their advantages in the 21st century. Knowing that your marriage was not valid might provide some comfort and make it easier to start over or find a new partner. But since every relationship is different, the decision to have a marriage annulled or to get divorced is one that couples need to make for themselves.

Beatrix Potter is a professional writer at Write My Essay and Do My Homework writing services. Bea writes about relationships. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, running and reading a wide range of genres.

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