How Annulment Works

The law erases an annulled marriage from a legal view, and it declares that the marriage never technically happened and was never valid. Although each state has its laws regarding the basis for marriage annulment, certain requirements apply globally. Either party in a marriage can trigger an annulment case. The party triggering the annulment must prove that he or she has the basis to do so, and if it can be confirmed, the marriage will be considered null by the court.

Unlike divorce, annulment is usually retroactive, which means that an annulled marriage is considered null from the start, almost as if it had never taken place (however, various statutes state that the marriage is only void beginning from the day of the annulment). To initiate an annulment, your marriage has to be either "void" or "voidable." There's a major difference between those two words, and that contrast can make the difference between a marriage that is intrinsically invalid and one that you can validate. A "void" marriage is null on its face; it should never have happened, and there's nothing that can alter that.

A marriage that's "voidable," on the other hand, can legitimately exist under specific situations. You may have a basis for an annulment, but that doesn't end the marriage automatically. In the event of a voidable marriage, it's up to one of the spouses to request that the court ascertain the marriage's existence. The petition to annul a marriage is presented by one of the spouses of the marriage.

Example of Annulment

Although the basis for seeking an annulment differs (as can factors that may bar a person from initiating an annulment), there are still some common grounds for seeking an annulment. Two general examples are marriages based on bigamy, which is when one of the spouses was already married when the marriage took place, and incest, which is when the marriage occurred between blood relatives.

For example, you can seek an annulment if your partner was still married to someone else when they married you. This means that they were unable to marry you. So, notwithstanding that you had a marriage ceremony, an annulment indicates that it is like you were never married.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Divorce is a court-ordered termination of a marriage. For it to be a feasible process, the marriage must be legitimate, meaning that there were no facts that could have refuted the marital bond when the couple got married.

However, when it comes to terminating a marriage, an annulment does not so much end it as it does declare it did not exist from the start. It is based on the grounds your marriage was void from the onset. There are only a few valid reasons for a court to order an annulment, making it less feasible to obtain than a divorce. There are also differences between divorce and annulment when it comes to the issue of spousal support and property distribution.