Annulment or Divorce, What's the Difference?

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on May 07, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Although celebrity divorces regularly make headline news, it's relatively rare that someone hears about a big story about an annulment, so it might not be surprising that some people wonder what the difference between the two are. For those wondering what distinguishes an annulment from a divorce or what the requirements for a civil annulment are, here's a quick run down.

As most are aware, divorce is a legal process whereby a marriage gets dissolved. A civil annulment also dissolves a marriage, but it does so in a way that treats the parties as if they were never married. Generally you hear about annulments mostly with people that have been married a short time, and the general requirements for getting annulments pretty much explain why.

Annulments, as a general rule, require at least one of the following: 1) some type of fraud or concealment; 2) a refusal or inability to consummate the marriage (yes, that's pretty much just what it sounds like); or 3) a misunderstanding. Although "misunderstanding" sounds like a fairly broad category, it actually is usually interpreted fairly narrowly to mean a misunderstanding on some kind of a "deal-breaker" type of issue. It doesn't mean an argument or simply "not getting along". One example of a key misunderstanding might be if a couple had never discussed having children and they now found out they disagreed on the issue.

Fraud or hiding key information from a spouse might be grounds for an annulment, as well. For example, if a spouse lies about their ability to have kids (i.e. they physically can't), or hides that they have a sexually transmitted disease, these might be grounds for an annulment based on fraud or concealment.

The above noted requirements and the examples probably demonstrate why most annulments happen shortly after marriage, and in circumstances where the parties didn't know each other too long before marrying. Lastly, if a short term marriage is involved, an annulment would probably not involve any major issues such as division of property, child custody and support, etc. Below are links to more information on the topic, as well as a questionnaire for those looking into annulments.

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