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Should you get a divorce or annulment? Learn about the legal grounds for getting an annulment and find ways to make this painful process a little easier.

What is the Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce

Divorce lawyers, family psychologists, and other experts unanimously agree that the divorce process is a serious life test for a married couple. The decision to file for divorce must be balanced, discarding unnecessary emotions. The initiation of such procedures implies some preliminary preparation for the petitioner. 

When talking about the legal procedures related to divorce, American family law has different distinctive features, depending on the options required. It includes case format, location, spouse status, and so on. 

Therefore, the famous phrase “forewarned is forearmed” is more appropriate than ever and applicable to spouses who want to optimize their divorce and manage it with minimal sacrifices on their wallet, mental and moral health, and other resources. This article will discuss the various end-of-marriage options that exist and their key differences.

In particular, we will focus on two legal options that imply the end of married life in the eyes of the court. We are talking about the legal procedures of divorce and the annulment of the marriage.

Key Features of These Two Legal Options

Basically, there are two options for legally ending a marriage and common family life. According to modern US laws, they are divorce and annulment. There are several similarities and differences between them. Legally, some of the biggest differences include the type of evidence required to obtain an annulment or a divorce and the obligations of the former spouse following each ruling.

Many religions define divorce and annulment, but the legal ruling does not necessarily have to align with the religious designation. The main difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce ends a legally valid marriage, while an annulment formally declares a marriage to have been invalid. 

So, in general terms, divorce means legal dissolving or termination. A divorce traditionally ends a legal marriage and declares the spouses to be single again. At the same time, an annulment is a legal ruling that erases a marriage by declaring it null and void, as if the union was never legally consummated. 

Among other key differences between the two types of marriage dissolution are the post statuses of former spouses. For instance, after the final court resolution for an annulment, the marriage is considered to have never legally happened. In other words, for the whole situation, it is as if the clock is turned back to before the marriage. 

Meanwhile, after an official divorce, the former spouses may still have obligations to each other. The list of these obligations may include child support, alimony, joint child custody for kids born in marriage, and division and further distribution of common property, including family debts, assets, and other financial items.

Even if the marriage is erased, the marriage records remain on file. It is essential to notice that a religious annulment is not a legal dissolution of a civil marriage. Since religious matters are often mentioned along with an option of a marriage annulment, the next section is dedicated to the clerical point of view on this item.

Legal Process and Religious Guidelines on Divorce and Annulment

Many religions have parameters regarding divorce and annulment. It often happens that permission is granted by religious clergy or by written guidelines. Obtaining permission to have an annulment or a divorce from a spiritual leader is usually a completely different step from the legal process, which in no way can be settled on a legal basis.

The rules regarding divorce and marriage annulment in any religion often determine whether one, both, or neither of the partners has permission to marry again within the faith or participate in religious rituals. However, we do not know for certain whether there have ever been such precedents.

At the same time, a state or local court of law may consider the spouses’ religious marital status but does not have to recognize the religious determinations when making rulings about spousal and children support, property division or distribution, alimony, and other legal issues. 

Grounds for Divorce and Annulment: an Architecture of the Processes

There are different reasons for pursuing a divorce versus an annulment. At the core, ending a marriage is generally because one or both spouses want to leave the union. Divorce proceedings are much more common in legal practice. A divorce is initiated by one of the spouses, called “the petitioner,” when the parties acknowledge that the marriage existed. 

From the other side, an annulment is sought when one or both spouses believe that there was something legally invalid about the marriage in the first place. 

The reasons for getting a divorce can be divided into two types known as “fault” and “no-fault” divorces.

In a no-fault divorce, neither party is required to prove fault on the part of their spouse. “Irreconcilable differences” are often considered to be the grounds for a no-fault divorce. This option is legal in every state. Nevertheless, in some cases, it is required that the couple should live apart for a period of time before they can file for a divorce. 

Common grounds cited for fault divorces can include things like adultery, imprisonment, or abandonment. Regardless of type, the divorcing couple may still have disputes about property, finances, child custody, and other items that are settled by the court orders. Fault divorces can lead to larger settlements for the party without fault.

At the same time, an annulment ends a marriage that at least one of the parties believes should never have taken place. Hidden information can sometimes be considered a ground for a marriage annulment. For example, if the marriage took place despite unknown facts, such as a secret child, or even a hidden illness, it may be voidable. 

An annulment can also end a marriage if the marriage was not legal. This might occur if issues such as bigamy or incest made the marriage illegal. The legal grounds for obtaining an annulment vary between states. Typically, they include such reasons as forced marriage, illegal age to marry, bigamy, and concealment of major issues such as drug abuse or criminal history.

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