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As Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s indulge our morbid curiosity by exploring a little-used avenue out of marriage: the annulment.  Most of us have a general understanding of its purpose, but why choose annulment over divorce?  This article will define annulment more thoroughly and distinguish it from divorce.


What is it?

Annulment is a court order that declares that a marriage was either void from the start or voidable due to evidence that is presented.  In that sense, it differs from divorce because while a divorce ends a valid marriage, an annulment recognizes a marriage as being invalid in someway and, therefore, no longer existing in the eye of the law.


Void marriages

Void marriages are those that are not recognized under the law.  A bigamous marriage is void because the law does not allow a married person to enter into another marriage at the same time.  Underage and incestuous marriages also fall into this category.  Void marriages are not recognized under the law, and so the parties do not technically need a court order to dissolve the marriage, but they can choose to ask a court to annul the marriage if they wish to create a record of its nullity.


Voidable marriages

Voidable marriages are those that would otherwise be recognized by law, but specific circumstances entitle a party to have the marriage declared invalid.  These circumstances include fraud, duress, incompetence, and impotence.  Courts have also agreed to invalidate marriages that take advantage of ignorance of relevant facts.  Relevant facts include a spouse’s felony record, previous prostitution career, fathering or bearing a child of a third person within the ten months of marriage, or having a felony conviction.  There is a two-year deadline for filing suit for annulment on the basis of most of the grounds for voiding a marriage.  Your right to a remedy may also be waived if you continue to live with your spouse after learning a fact that would render the marriage voidable.


Why Annul?

 Annulment may be the right choice for a couple who cannot divorce because of the parties’ religious or moral objections.  A court that orders annulment may also resolve child custody, visitation, and support matters.  In a marriage in which no children were born, annulment allows both former spouses to go on with their lives as though the marriage never happened.  After an annulment, both parties may marry other people.  Neither party has any financial obligation to the other.  


Why Divorce?

Annulment is not a good option when there are financial or property matters to resolve at the end of a marriage.  An annulled marriage no longer exists in the eyes of the law.  Therefore, rights to support or property division that are created in marriage no longer exist either.  Parties to an annulment may not seek equitable division of property or spousal support.  If you need spousal support, or if your spouse will not agree on how to divide the property, you will need to pursue a divorce.


 We Can Help

If you are considering annulment or divorce, don’t go it alone.  Contact us for answers to your questions and quality advice tailored to your specific situation.

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