Reasons to Annul a Marriage Instead of Divorce

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Individuals may reach the conclusion that they no longer want to be legally married to another person. When this is the case, there are often two ways to sever the tie: divorce or annulment. There are some reasons why individuals may prefer an annulment, but not everyone may be eligible for it.

Grounds for Annulment

It is very often not the case that individuals can freely choose whether to annul a marriage or get a divorce. For an annulment, there must very often be specific grounds to justify this action. For example, some states may only permit an annulment if there is fraud, bigamy, an underage spouse, an incompetent spouse or the marriage has not been consummated. Other potential grounds are that the couple are closely related, the marriage was coerced or one of the spouses misrepresented something fundamental to the marriage.

Legal Effect of an Annulment

Annulling a marriage is different from divorce in the sense that it completely voids the marriage. It makes it as if the marriage never occurred. In divorce, the parties do not dispute that they were legally married. Spouses become single again and are free to remarry. An annulment does not generally affect the legitimacy of a child born during the marriage with states usually recognizing the child as legitimate if he or she was born during a marriage in place at that time. Additionally, an annulment does not generally affect paternity.

Social Reasons for an Annulment

Not too long ago, divorce had a negative social stigma attached to it. Therefore, a person may try to get an annulment, alleging fraud or another ground, in order to end the marriage without technically being divorced. In some religions, divorce is frowned upon, so annulment provides an alternative to getting an unsanctioned divorce by the church or other religious establishment. Very often if a person annuls a marriage, he or she is able to remarry in the same faith when he or she would otherwise be unable to do so if he or she had been divorced.

Matters Involved in Annulment Proceedings

Because an annulment basically acts as though the marriage never existed, there are fewer issues to deal with. The court may not deal with dividing property. Property division disputes may be intensive and long-lasting. In this sense, an annulment can more quickly dissolve a marriage with fewer issues to deal with.

However, in some states, other matters may still be heard. For example, New Jersey may still award spousal support in annulment cases. If the parties have children together, the court will still have to consider child custody and support matters. Generally, courts will not consider a child illegitimate just because there is a later annulment. Likewise, paternity is not affected by an annulment.

Advantages of Annulment

In some situations, there are certain advantages to getting a marriage annulled rather than terminating the marriage through divorce. For example, an annulment may protect a personís property. Since the law views the marriage as never happening, a personís ownership interest in certain property may be extinguished through an annulment. The courts generally try to restore the individuals back to the position that they were in before the marriage, so this can help the better-positioned party. In states that do not award spousal support in annulment cases, getting the marriage annulled can potentially prevent an award of this nature.

An annulment may also help a person receive benefits to which he or she was previously eligible. For example, if a person was receiving spousal support from a previous marriage, these benefits may be restored after the subsequent marriage is annulled when these benefits may not have been restored if the person was simply divorced.

Legal Complications

There may be certain legal complications that arise when in pursuit of an annulment. There may be a need for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the marriage. This may take additional time and resources. An expert witness may be necessary to help prove the grounds for the case. There may be unexpected consequences.

Legal Assistance

When considering whether to get a divorce or annulment, it is important to consult with an experienced family law lawyer who can explain the differences between these two. Additionally, a family law lawyer can explain the pros and cons of each approach and help a client determine what will be in his or her best interest. Armed with this information, a person can determine which legal strategy to embrace moving forward.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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