Choosing Between Divorce and Annulment

In some cases, a couple may be able to get their marriage annulled, which effectively means the marriage was never valid.

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Practice Areas: Divorce

An annulment is, as decreed by the law, a method to ending a marriage by determining the union is null and void, essentially treating the marriage as if it never existed. A divorce, on the other hand, ends a legally valid marriage.

The outcome of an annulment and a divorce area the same; both individuals are now single and can remarry. Furthermore, courts presiding over a divorce and annulment proceedings can solve issues regarding child support, child custody, division of assets and alimony.

Knowing the difference between divorce and annulment can help you choose the option which is right for your specific circumstances.

Religious Annulment

Roman Catholics may seek a religious annulment once they have obtained a civil divorce. This gives both individuals the option or remarrying within the church. The grounds for religious annulments within the Catholic Church differ from civil annulments and are typically granted when the sacrament of marriage wasn’t valid.

Civil Annulment

Civil annulments are granted when the marriage is considered invalid based on civil grounds rather than religious grounds. Civil annulments are generally granted in cases of fraud, incest, insanity, mental disability, existence of a previous marriage, lack of consent and/or underage marriage.

Keep in mind, however, the grounds for civil annulment vary from state to state. Generally speaking though, an annulment will typically be granted if one of the spouses can prove that the marriage should have never occurred in the first place.


Divorce is similar to a civil annulment, in the fact that both are legal proceedings and not religious ones. However, unlike an annulment, a divorce decree does not declare the marriage invalid. Instead, the divorce decree states that the marriage was valid, but for one reason or another has failed and the parties involved want to terminate the relationship.

Once the divorce is granted, the marriage contract is dissolved, and moth parties are single once again. While most states don’t require that a spouse has “grounds” for a divorce, some of the common causes are infidelity, poor communication, domestic violence, and financial problems.

Annulment is not Always an Option

Sometimes, religious beliefs may pressure a spouse to try to obtain an annulment instead of a divorce. In many cases an annulment is not an option, and obtaining one is often limited and difficult to do. If the marriage doesn’t qualify for a civil or religious annulment, the couple has only the option of a legal separation or filing for divorce. An attorney will be able to determine whether annulment is available for a given case.

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