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What's the Difference Between Annulment & Divorce?


Whether a couple gets a divorce or annulment, they are no longer married. Yet the difference between the two legal actions is huge. A divorce ends a marriage. An annulment erases the union like it never happened.

In demographic questions, someone with an annulled marriage would check the box for single (not divorced) and can truthfully say they have never been married.

Any couple can get a divorce, but an annulment in California can only be granted in specific situations.

Qualifying for an Annulment

Unlike a divorce, an annulment erases that the marriage ever existed, at least in the eyes of the law. While some couples might wish their marriage never existed, the relationship must meet specific grounds to qualify for an annulment.

Having regret after getting married is not a legal justification for an annulment. An extremely short marriage does not qualify either. There are situations where California law considers a marriage either void or voidable.

A void marriage (was an invalid marriage from the outset) includes the following:

  • Marriages between children and parents
  • Marriages between siblings, including half-siblings
  • Marriages between ancestors and descendants of every degree
  • Marriages where a spouse is already married to someone else (bigamy)

A marriage is voidable in the following circumstances:

  • One of the parties was under the age of consent (18 years old) and did not have parental permission
  • (b) The spouse of either party was living and the marriage with that spouse was then in force and that spouse (1) was absent and not known to the party commencing the proceeding to be living for a period of five successive years immediately preceding the subsequent marriage for which the judgment of nullity is sought or (2) was generally reputed or believed by the party commencing the proceeding to be dead at the time the subsequent marriage was contracted.
  • Either party was of unsound mind (this ground is null if the person freely cohabitated after returning to mentally sound)
  • Either party used fraud to obtain the other person’s consent to marry (this ground is null if the person freely cohabitated after learning of the fraud)
  • Either party used force to obtain consent (this ground is null if the person freely cohabitated afterward)
  • Either party was, at the time of marriage, physically incapable of consummating the marriage, and appears to be incurable

An annulment can be sought in a void marriage at any time. Voidable marriages have time limits.

The party in an underage marriage must commence the action within four years after they reach 18 years old. A parent or guardian of the minor must seek the annulment before the married minor turns 18. Force, fraud, and impotence grounds must be filed within four years after the marriage. A party can petition for annulment at any time in cases of bigamy or unsound mind.

Obtaining Child Support in an Annulment

An annulment legally erases the marriage, but both parties are financially responsible for the care of any child from their relationship. When a marriage is annulled, the children were then technically born to single parents. As part of the paternity action, the judge can establish legal paternity.

Once paternity is legally settled, then child support, child custody, and visitation can all be ordered. The level of child support is no different in annulment than for children of divorce.

Receiving Alimony in an Annulment

Alimony is generally not awarded after an annulment has been granted. However, the judge can award temporary alimony while the case is pending.

Dividing Property in an Annulment

In a divorce, the property acquired during the marriage is equally divided between the spouses. These property rights are not viable in a void or voidable marriage. A potential exemption to this rule is a case where a spouse truly believed they were in a valid marriage. This individual may be considered a putative spouse. If so, they are entitled to the same rights as an individual going through a divorce.

Legal Counsel for Pursuing an Annulment

At Gille Kaye Law Group, PC, we have experience in successfully arguing the case for annulment. We have a deep understanding of the law and the types of evidence a judge needs to be presented. We know that annulment is very different from a divorce and requires unique strategies.

If you want to annul your marriage, talk to us about your case. Request a confidential consultation online or call (626) 340-0955.

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