Annulment vs Divorce: Undoing a Huge Mistake

A marriage can fall apart at any time. For many people facing the end of a marriage, it doesn’t come for years. Other people know they’ve made a mistake shortly after they’ve said “I do.” In some situations, people face the decision of whether to get an annulment vs. divorce.


Wondering what the difference is?


Both an annulment and a divorce end a marriage.  However, in an annulment, the Court treats the marriage as though it never happened, and each party walks away with what they had before the marriage.  


Many annulments follow marriages of short duration; it’s uncommon to see an annulment of a marriage that has lasted more than a few weeks or months.


There are a number of traditional grounds people can cite for an annulment:



1. Fraud and Misrepresentation

In these cases, one of the spouses has usually lied about something that was “essential to the marriage.”  This ground most often comes up in relation to future children; if one spouse knows they cannot have children but still leads the other spouse to believe they can, it can lead to an annulment.



2. Inability to Consummate the Marriage


A spouse may seek an annulment if the other spouse is incapable of having sex and the other spouse didn’t know before the marriage.



3. Bigamy


Bigamy happens when an individual is legally married to another person at the time of the marriage.


(As an aside…why anyone would want to deal with the stress of more than one spouse is beyond me.)



4. Unsound Mind


An unsound mind occurs when one or both of the spouses was impaired at the time of marriage.  This could mean they were drunk, on drugs or were mentally ill.  The central focus of the unsound mind ground is that the individual was unable to understand what was happening and give informed consent to the union.


(Considering this ground, I’ve been to a couple weddings where the bride and groom didn’t seem entirely sober.  Though they may have had a passable claim at annulment, the chances are that sticking together for years after the wedding voided that claim.)


There are several more grounds for an annulment including someone being underage, incest (the spouses being too closely related, rendering the marriage illegal) and force (which removes the individual’s ability to consent to the marriage).


In the case of a short duration marriage, it isn’t likely there would be a difficult court situation.   Most times, courts will send each person away with only the debts and financials with which they entered the marriage. As for children, they usually don’t become much of an issue outside rare situations.  When they are an issue, courts consider them to be legitimate children of the couple and approach child support and parenting time accordingly.


When an annulment is contested, the court battle could be every bit as difficult as a regular divorce.



Divorce vs. Annulment


Divorce, in contrast, is more frequently a drawn-out process.  (It doesn’t have to be, though.) When deciding whether to get a divorce, there are numerous things to consider (listen to this episode of our podcast for more info).   That being said, the very same concepts that lead to annulments may also lead to divorce.


One of the big ones, misrepresentation, stays from annulment.  Your spouse may not have lied before the marriage, but lies after marriage will surely inhibit a person’s desire to stay in the relationship.


Unsound mind can come up as well: Mental disorders become an issue for many couples during their relationships, especially when depression sets in for unknown reasons and tests the fabric of the relationship.  In some marriages, other serious issues arise and completely change how the couple sees one another.  Though medication and counseling may assist in addressing these issues, divorce might be the best option in some instances.


The central question in considering annulment vs divorce is “What type of life do we want together?”  Some never have to worry about that question, but for those that do, it’s better to address it sooner, rather than later.

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