Annulment and Divorce: A Comparison
When a marriage can be annulled and when is a divorce required
You may have heard the term annulment before, but may not be sure exactly what it means, or when it applies. An annulment is very different from a divorce. When a marriage is annulled, it means that the marriage was never valid. There are certain factors that can make a marriage invalid – if you marry someone who is too young to consent, for example, then the marriage will not be recognized under the law, and this marriage could be annulled.
The difference between an annulment and a divorce is more than semantic. If there is no marriage, there is no marital property to divide. In a divorce, the court may have to decide issues of property distribution, but that is not a part of an annulment. In an annulment, a home purchased during the union, for example, would belong to the person whose name is on the title and not to the couple, as it would if the marriage were valid.
Another difference between annulment and divorce is the issue of alimony. Since in an annulment, no marriage existed, neither party is required to provide spousal support to the other. Child support is a different issue. A court can decide issues of child custody and child support regardless of how the union is dissolved. The process of determining child custody is a bit different in an annulment, because a man may have the additional burden of proving that he is the father of the child. When a child is the product of a valid marriage, the child is usually presumed to be the child of the married couple. If a marriage is not valid, that presumption goes away and the father or mother may need to take other steps to establish paternity.
Grounds for annulment are different from grounds for divorce. An annulment occurs when there was something wrong at the very time of the marriage, not because of events that occurred later. Each state has its own standards for when to grant an annulment, but most of the underlying issues are the same. There are certain requirements that are needed in order to form a valid marriage. The parties must be free to marry, unrelated to the person they are marrying, and able to consent to the marriage. When one of these elements is missing, the marriage may be deemed invalid.
For example, a person who is shown to be mentally ill at the time of their marriage may not have the capacity to understand the consequences of their act and therefore unable to legally consent to the marriage. If consent is lacking the marriage is void. The same applies if the parties cannot appreciate the nature of their actions due to the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the ceremony. Lack of consent can also include situations where one person is forced to marry through threats of violence.
Marriages are contracts and they must be entered into freely and knowingly. If the parties do not consent to the marriage, or they do not have the ability to legally consent because they are under the statutory age then no valid marriage can be created. Parties who are misled about important issues have not entered into the marriage contract knowingly. For example, if you were not told that your partner was unable to consummate the marriage before you entered into the marriage that could be a basis for an annulment.
Finally, a significant difference between annulment and divorce is that you generally have a limited time under the law to request an annulment. This can vary from state to state, and since annulment is a court procedure similar to divorce, you should consult with an attorney, especially when children involved.
Can I Get an Annulment?
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