Marriage is one of the important decisions in life. While for some couples, the decision turns out to be the best; for others, it could be the worst decision, they have ever taken. For those who belong to the latter category, separation is the easiest way to get out of the mess. Such a separation needs a legal authority, which can be acquired either through a divorce or an annulment.
Even though, divorce and annulment are commonly used terms, many people are still unaware of the differences between the two. For them, both these terms mean the same thing - the legal proceedings for dissolution of marriage. This knowledge is partly true, as both proceedings are aimed at dissolution of marriage; but, in the legal sense, they are different. There are many intricacies associated with divorce and annulment, which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
Annulment and Divorce
We all know that both these terms are related to dissolution of marriage. Then what is the difference between annulment and divorce? Once the married couple has decided to separate, they can either initiate an annulment proceeding or a divorce proceeding. (There are two types of annulment proceedings - one is the civil annulment, which is conducted by the state; and the other is the religious one, which is conducted by the church. The annulment, explained in this article is strictly civil annulment, as religious version is different for each religious authority.) A basic idea about the various aspects of both legal proceedings can help in choosing the right one, which is best suited for your circumstances. Another option is legal separation without divorce; wherein the court decides on every other aspect, like division of property, alimony, child support, custody, and visitation.
Coming to annulment vs. divorce, the basic difference between the two lies in the fact, that the former is a legal proceeding to obtain a decree that the marriage was invalid from the very beginning; whereas a divorce proceeding is initiated to end a valid marriage. In a divorce proceeding, the court relies on the fact, that there is a valid marriage; but through a divorce decree, stops the valid marriage from continuing. In case of annulment, the court assumes that whatever happened was not a legal marriage, and there is no need of termination of marriage. All that is required, is to declare the union of the couple as invalid.
- As far as the legal procedures are concerned, annulment proceedings are considered to be less messy, as compared to divorce proceedings, which can be lengthy too.
- Most of the annulment proceedings do not consider factors, like alimony, division of property, and child custody; whereas in a divorce proceeding, usually, the court rules on most of these factors.
- Even though, the rules of annulment and divorce vary from one state to another, the basics are more or less the same. As an annulment results in declaring a marriage invalid from the beginning itself, there is no question of maintenance or alimony, which is granted in divorce.
- When it comes to distribution of property, the court tries to restore the original financial state of the parties (before the marriage) in case of annulment; but in a divorce proceeding, the court tries to divide marital property equitably.
- In divorce, child support and custody are matters, which are taken into consideration; whereas this is not the case in annulment, with exception to some states.
- It has been observed that, annulment proceeding is also treated like a divorce proceeding, and all factors are taken into consideration, in case of long-standing relation between the parties.
- In general, marriages of short duration are qualified for annulment; while long-standing marriages qualify for divorce proceeding.
- Grounds for divorce include cruelty, adultery, desertion, physical inability to consummate marriage, infidelity, abandonment, and bigamy; the grounds for annulment include misrepresentation or fraud, concealment, inability to consummate the marriage, and misunderstanding.