Annulment vs. Separation

In searching for alternatives to divorce, many couples often inquire about annulments and legal separation. Unlike divorce, which is the legal ending of a marriage, both annulments and legal separations affect a marriage differently. This article examines the distinctions between annulments and separations. Topics discussed include annulments, divorces, separations, legal separation agreements, grounds for annulment, and annulment help.


Unlike a divorce, which ends a marriage, an annulment is a declaration by a court that the marriage was never valid to begin with. Some common grounds for an annulment are:

  • Fraud
  • Consanguinity
  • Bigamy
  • Lack of capacity to consent
  • Inability or unwillingness to consummate the marriage.


The primary difference between annulment and separation is that, unlike an annulment, a legal separation recognizes a marriage as legal and valid. And, unlike a divorce, a separation does not end a marriage. Rather, parties who are legally separated remain married while living separate lives. Grounds for legal separation vary widely among states.

Differences Between Annulment and Separation

Though annulment and separation are often mentioned as alternatives to divorce, there are many differences between the two alternatives that you should be familiar with. Specifically, annulment and separation differ in the following areas:

Property Rights: Annulment and legal separation affect the property rights of the married parties differently. Because an annulment never recognizes a marriage as valid, the parties have no legal rights to each other’s property. However, in a legal separation, the parties retain all rights to marital property and must negotiate a distribution of marital property and marital debt in the same manner as they would in a divorce.

Process and Negotiation: In obtaining a legal separation, the parties must negotiate a legal settlement agreement, a document which lays out each party’s obligation to the other during the course of the separation. Issues typically addressed in a legal separation agreement include:

However, an annulment does not recognize that the parties ever had any right to each other’s property. Accordingly, each party typically leaves an annulled marriage with whatever property he or she brought into it. Where the parties accumulated marital property during the course of the invalid marriage, they may have to negotiate an equitable distribution of the property, but without taking marital rights into consideration.

Outcome: Once an annulment has been granted by a court, the formerly married parties have no more legal significance to each other than any other two strangers who pass on the street. If the parties wish to establish a marital relationship, they must enter into a legal marriage. In contract, the parties to a legal separation remain married throughout the entire course of the separation. If they wish to resume a marital relationship, they must simply return to court and ask to withdraw the legal separation agreement.

Annulment Help

Both annulments and legal separation agreements can be tricky, though for different reasons. Courts generally do not like to grant annulments. Before spending your time and money investing in filing for an annulment, it is advisable to consult with an attorney to determine if an annulment process is possible in your case. Legal separations often involve lengthy and complicated negotiations. Before negotiating or signing a legal separation agreement, it’s always a good idea to meet with a competent family law attorney to determine what your rights are.

Though annulment and separations are appealing alternatives to divorce, annulments are notoriously difficult to obtain and separations are generally only useful in limited circumstances, such as when two parties plan to reconcile. Accordingly, it is important to research both alternatives to divorce in your state before making a decision regarding the future of your family.

Talk to a Lawyer

Want to talk to an attorney? Start here.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you