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Annulment vs. Divorce

Published by Nanni on Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Photo credit by Franco Folini

So it’s over, and your questions begin. Annulment or divorce? Do you have a choice? What’s the difference between divorce and annulment? The two can become complicated, but if you’re ending a marriage, you need to look at both.

An annulment, just like a divorce, officially ends a marriage. The difference is that an annulment erases the marriage as though it never existed, while a divorce legally recognizes that the marriage was valid at one time. Most people are familiar with a religious annulment by the Roman Catholic Church, but there is also a civil annulment. Each state handles annulments a little differently, but it is almost always more difficult to get an annulment than a divorce.

Civil Annulment

If you try to get a civil annulment of your marriage, most state courts will look for at least one of four reasons as grounds for your plea.
  • Fraud: This is an act of misrepresentation on the part of your spouse. If your spouse failed to tell you that he was already married to somebody else, but not divorced. This is bigamy and considered fraud. In most cases, the first spouse is unaware of the second spouse. If this happens to you, you may file for an annulment, and you may be able to prosecute your spouse criminally. Other acts of fraud that may qualify include one partner lying about the ability to have children or a lie about age. For the age fraud, it usually has to be a situation where one partner is not legally old enough to get married with the consent of parents.
  • Misunderstanding: With misunderstanding, one or both partners have failed to understand something the other person meant, such as the desire to have children.
  • Concealment: If you have a drug or alcohol addiction or perhaps a sexually transmitted disease, but did not give this information to your spouse, he or she can legally file for annulment. Fraud and concealment come very close to being the same thing.
  • Non-consummation of the marriage: If your spouse refuses sex, the marriage cannot be physically consummated, and you can file for annulment.
Annulment is almost always used for very short marriages. It is rare for couples married for a year or more to seek annulment. With these marriages of a few months or even a few weeks, there are usually no children to fight over and little joint property and finances. If there are children and the marriage is annulled, then the children are considered illegitimate, since an annulment wipes the marriage record off the books.

Religious annulments are different from civil annulments and not necessarily recognized by the courts as legal. However, most people who seek an annulment from the Roman Catholic Church have already been granted a civil annulment. But if they want to re-marry and have it recognized by the Catholic Church, they will have to also seek a religious annulment of the first marriage. A religious annulment is a fairly rigorous process. The person will have to definitively show that there was some type of deception involved, such as civil annulments require, and in most cases he will have to already have a civil annulment from the courts. The Catholic Church sometimes asks for psychological assessments of both parties. If a person wants an annulment, he first goes to his parish to get the process started, but the Roman Catholic Church court makes the final decision.

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