What Is Marriage Annulment And How Is It Different From Divorce?

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Divorce is an option to end a legitimate marriage. But if the marriage is invalid, to begin with, then it can be annulled. Marriage annulment is a declaration that you have not been married at all. But, on what grounds can a marriage be annulled? And what is the procedure to nullify a marriage? In this MomJunction post, we answer all these questions and more.

What Is Marriage Annulment? 

A marriage annulment is a process that nullifies or dissolves a marriage. That is, there was no marriage at all in the eyes of the law. When the marriage didn’t happen, there is no need to have an annulment decree. However, you can go to a court and get it for future reference.

A marriage annulment can be a civil annulment or a religious annulment. In a religious annulment, the church doesn’t nullify a marriage but terminates a supposedly valid marriage. This happens on the grounds that the marriage lacks an aspect that is necessary for a union.

On the other hand, civil marriage annulment voids a marriage. However, at least one spouse has to prove that the marriage was invalid since the beginning. Next, we tell you on what grounds a partner or spouse can obtain an annulment of marriage.           

What Are The Grounds To Obtain An Annulment? 

The grounds to prove that marriage is either voidable or void may differ from one state to another. For instance, in Alabama, the grounds for annulment include the age of one of the individuals being under 16, incest, or bigamy. While in New Jersey, the grounds are incest, consent under the influence of drugs or alcohol, impotency, fraud, and previously undissolved marriage.

In general, a few common factors that could lead to annulment are discussed next.

1. Underage

If one or both the spouses were underage when they got married, then the marriage can be annulled. However, the age limit varies from one state to another in the US. In a few states such as Indiana, Minnesota, and New Jersey, it is 16. But in New York and Texas, it is 17, while it is 18 in Florida, Oregon, and Virginia. The age limit may also change from time to time, so you should check the latest updates before applying for an annulment.

2. Bigamy 

When a person is already married legally but is trying to marry again, it is called bigamy, which is also a crime. If it is discovered that one of the spouses was already married and has disclosed the information, then the marriage can be made void.

3. Fraud or misrepresentation

When one of the spouses hides any essential information or misrepresents some facts or commits fraud to get into marriage, it serves as a ground to annul a marriage. Some examples include the intent of marriage is only to have a green card, asserting that they want children when they cannot, disclosing a wrong identity to enter marriage, or entering into a sham marriage to gain some benefit.

4. Spouses in close relation

When the spouses are found to be closely related or are blood relatives, then the marriage can be nullified because blood relatives cannot marry in some states. These void relationships include first and second cousins, half or whole siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandchildren. However, the rules differ from one state to another. For instance, some states accept first cousin marriages, while some don’t.

5. Unsound mind

If any of the spouses were not in the right senses while marrying, it means their consent was not valid. It could be either due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or due to mental incompetence. In such a case, the marriage is considered void and counts as grounds for a marriage annulment.

6. Others

Forced consent, no parental consent, impotency, physical impairment, and misunderstandings are a few other grounds based on which a marriage can be considered void and annulled.

How To Get An Annulment? 

The procedure for marriage annulment is standard and quite similar to that of a divorce. It is a simple process that involves filing documents and petitions. Here are a few points that you should know about the marriage annulment process.

  • One or both spouses can apply for an annulment. It is essential to apply to the right court, which is either a family court or a Superior Court of Justice.
  • The applicants should meet the state residency requirements of the place where they live.
  • Once the annulment request is filed, a judge will be assigned to the case. If the request is mutual, then the court will grant the marriage annulment request. But if one spouse has filed and the other person objects, then there will be a hearing. The judge will check the arguments and evidence submitted by both the spouses and will decide whether the marriage can be annulled or not.
  • If there are assets or properties involved in the marriage, or there is a child, then the states have their own rules and laws that divide the assets and guide on support and child custody.

Ideally, there is no need for an attorney for a marriage annulment. But if you are not sure about the process and need help with the documentation and filing, you can approach a local attorney.

What Are The Differences Between Annulment And Divorce? 

Annulment and divorce are both ways to end a marriage. But there are several differences between them.

  • A divorce ends a legally valid marriage, whereas an annulment is a legal way to declare a marriage as null and void.
  • For a divorce, the couple has to wait for a specific period, say for a year (varies from state to state) before they are legally separated. But there are no such restrictions to nullify a marriage when both the spouses want it.
  • There could be a possibility of alimony in the case of divorce, but there is no alimony after the annulment. Also, there is a discussion on assets, property, profits, and spousal support after a divorce. But after an annulment, the spouses get only what they had before marriage.
  • Another technical difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a person is considered ‘divorced’ after the divorce. And after the annulment, they are ‘single’ or ‘unmarried.’

Overall, an annulment is not a complicated procedure as divorce could be. Nonetheless, even a marriage annulment procedure has its advantages and disadvantages.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Marriage Annulment vis-à-vis Divorce? 

Divorce and annulment are given in two totally different scenarios. However, when compared to divorce, here are some pros and cons of marriage annulment.


  • There is no tag of ‘divorced’ in your marital status. You can be open to a new relationship without any burden on your shoulders.
  • The waiting period is pretty short in the case of a marriage annulment in comparison to divorce and other legal proceedings.
  • It is easy to apply, and the proceedings are quick.
  • No minimum state residency is required for a marriage annulment.


  • The individual has no rights on their spouse’s property after marriage annulment.
  • There is no spousal support or alimony in an annulment case.
  • If there is any hearing, both spouses have to be present to give the testimony.
  • Sometimes, it could be difficult to get proof of marriage annulment.

What Does It Mean When Annulment Is Denied?

The annulment is denied when the marriage has not been proven void or voidable. If the marriage annulment is denied, you may have to apply for a divorce.

Although various aspects related to a marriage annulment in different US states are similar, there are a few differences that one should check for before initiating the procedure. If you are clear with every detail of a marriage annulment, then you can go ahead with the process. But if you have doubts or confusion, then you can talk to your family members or close friends. In addition, you can even consult a local attorney.

What is your opinion on marriage annulment? Let us know about it in the comment section below.

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