Annulment vs Divorce: What’s the Difference? An Attorney Explains

annulment vs divorce what s the difference 5

Renee Zelwegger and Kenny Chesney: annulled. Sophia Bush and Chad Michael Murrary: annulled. Kim Kardashian and Chris Humphries: divorced (but he wanted an annulment).

Because marriage is legally recognized, to get out of one, you to become legally unmarried. While both partners are still alive, there two ways to do this: divorce and annulment. So what’s the difference? Chicago-based attorney who specializes in family and matrimonial law, Tiffany M. Hughes, helps us explain.  

Annulment vs divorce: What's the main difference?

Both annulments and divorces are legal actions that ultimately end a marriage, but they do so through different proceedings and connotations. Per Hughes, “A divorce dissolves the bonds of matrimony between two spouses. An annulment is a legal judgment declaring a marriage to be invalid. Annulments are very rare and can be difficult to prove.” In other words, divorce is far more common than annulment because annulment has very strict eligibility requirements that most couples do not meet. On top of that, most people under normal circumstances probably don’t need or even want the legal ramifications of annulment—it’s kinda like the difference between saying “my ex-husband” and “no comment.”

Now, there are straightforward reasons one might need or want the annulment status—the conditions that led to the marriage were fraudulent (think: Joe Millionaire), morally questionable or straight up illegal. While there still must be legal basis for annulment (see below), the reason for seeking an annulment might be to restore a legal status prior to the marriage, like say, if you were receiving spousal support from a previous marriage or because you want to protect your property. That said, every state has different laws. As for why Chris Humphries wanted an annulment from Kim Kardashian, we can’t know for sure. But it probably has more to do with the significance of asking for one instead of the actual legal implications. Filing for an annulment on the basis of fraud was likely Humphries hinting that perhaps the Kardashians used him for the spectacle. Ultimately, Humphries and Kardashian marriage ended in divorce, not annulment.

What are the grounds for a divorce?

The legal grounds for divorce vary state by state, which is why you’ve probably heard the phrase “fault-based” vs. “no-fault” states. Now, all states allow for no-fault divorce, which basically means you don’t have to prove anyone was at “fault” for the dissolution of the marriage in order to get a divorce. “Any spouse in a legally valid marriage can typically file for divorce after being separated (emotionally or physically) from their spouse for a period of six months,” says Hughes. This is why “irreconcilable differences” is a common “ground” for no-fault divorces.

But, let’s say you want to get divorced faster (aka skip that six-month separation) or you want to prove that your partner was at fault for the failure of the marriage in order to seek a greater division of marital property or alimony, you could only do this in a fault-based divorce state.

However, as it relates to child custody, child support, alimony, etc., Hughes explains that in most states, the reason for divorce is irrelevant to child support obligations and what is in the best interest of the child(ren) of the parties. 

What are the grounds for annulment?

Per Hughes, common grounds for an annulment, or a judgment of invalidity, are as follows:

  • One spouse lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage, at the time of the marriage, due to suffering from a mental impairment or from being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • One spouse agreed to the marriage solely due to force, fraud or coercion. 
  • One spouse was age 16 or 17 at the time of the marriage and failed to obtain the proper legal approval of a parent, guardian or judge.
  • One spouse was still legally married to another person at the time of the marriage.
  • The marriage was incestuous. 
  • One spouse lacked the physical capacity to consummate the marriage and hid this fact from the other spouse. 

How do you know which one is right for you?

Chances are, that unless your marriage was invalid, you cannot seek an annulment. And either way, you should always seek guidance from an experienced divorce attorney to discuss your legal options and determine the best course of action for your specific experience.

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Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...