The Difference Between Annulments and Divorces
Generally, there are two major ways to legally end a marriage: divorce and annulments. However, there are important differences between the two proceedings concerning each method’s requirements and the legal effect of successfully ending one’s marriage via those methods.
In a divorce, the court ends a legally valid marriage, but in an annulment, the court declares a marriage to be legally invalid from the outset. As a result, the duties that arise from a legally valid marriage do not apply to marriages declared invalid in an annulment case.
In California, there are no longer specific grounds that must be alleged in order to obtain a divorce. Essentially, all the parties need to show in a divorce is that they have irreconcilable differences. In contrast, proof that the marriage is legally invalid must be provided in order to get an annulment.
The party seeking an annulment must prove that one of the following:
- Failure to comply with one of the formal requirements of a marriage
- The marriage was a product of fraud, duress, coercion, or undue influence
- At least one of the parties lacked the capacity to enter into the marriage
- The marriage involved bigamy, incest, or other unlawful circumstances
What Is a Putative Marriage?
When a marriage ends in an annulment, the duties that arise from a marital relationship—such as the duty to pay spousal support and fiduciary duties regarding the disclosure, use, and control of assets—are inapplicable because the marriage is considered to have never existed in the first place. As a result, the parties usually do not have any rights or obligations regarding post-separation spousal support or property division.
However, the rights and duties that usually apply to valid marriages may nevertheless apply to void or voidable marriages in annulment cases where either party had a sincere, good-faith belief that the marriage was valid. This is known as a “putative marriage” and a spouse who holds such a belief is considered to be a “putative spouse.”
Under California Family Code § 2251, courts must do the following in cases involving putative marriages:
- “Declare the party or parties, who believed in good faith that the marriage was valid, to have the status of a putative spouse.
- If the division of property is in issue, divide…that property acquired during the union that would have been community property or quasi-community property if the union had not been void or voidable, only upon request of a party who is declared a putative spouse…This property is known as ‘quasi-marital property.’”
Significantly, California Family Code § 2254 provides that a court may, “during the pendency of a proceeding for nullity of marriage or upon judgment of nullity of marriage, order a party to pay for the support of the other party in the same manner as if the marriage had not been void or voidable if the party for whose benefit the order is made is found to be a putative spouse.”
As a result, the putative spouse in an annulment case may be entitled to community property and spousal support as they would had their marriage been valid from the beginning.
For Legal Advice, Consult Gille Kaye Law Group, PC Today
If you have questions or concerns about your legal rights and obligations when ending your marriage—whether through divorce or annulment—you should consult an experienced attorney from Gille Kaye Law Group, PC.