Annulment or Divorce: Understanding the Grounds

A marriage can end for various reasons, ranging from cheating spouses to differences in temperaments. But, there are two ways to end a marriage legally: annulment or divorce.

By Angela Hill
Updated: August 11, 2016
annulment or divorce

According to reports from the National Vital Statistics System, around 813,862 marriages in the U.S. ended up in divorces and annulments in 2014, excluding data from Hawaii, California, Minnesota, Georgia, and Indiana. 

While both annulment and divorce dissolve a marriage and allow both spouses to return to their single status, where they once again have the ability to remarry, there are certain differences in how the two legal processes treat the marriage. An annulment cancels a marriage in such a way that it is completely and legally erased. Annulling a marriage means that it was never valid, and therefore, never existed. A divorce, on the other hand, still recognizes the couple as once married. This is a legal dissolution of a marriage that ends valid wedlock.

It is important to understand the grounds for each before applying for a divorce or annulment in court.

Grounds for Annulment

An annulment, as mentioned, treats the marriage as if it never existed. All too often, relationships come to awkward positions where people just want to withdraw from each other in such a way as if a relationship was never there. Annulment is a legal way to terminate your marriage under such situations. It is also a good option for people who want to avoid the stigma generally attached to divorce.

Annulment of a marriage happens under two grounds – civil and religious.

Civil Annulments

To obtain a civil annulment, you must have a pretty good reason to prove to the courts that you should have never been married. Generally, it is granted if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • Concealment: If your spouse purposely hid a major fact, such as a felony conviction, substance abuse problem, children from past relationship(s)/marriage(s), sexually transmitted diseases, impotency, etc., then you have strong grounds for an annulment.
  • Fraud: While it may sound similar to concealment, fraud has a different meaning in an annulment. When your spouse lies or misrepresents things, like not being married to someone previously or at the time of the marriage, ability to produce children, being old enough to get married, marrying to gain citizenship, and so on, these are considered fraud.  
  • Forced or Lack of Consent: If one of the spouses was threatened or forced into the marriage, or if there was a lack of mental capacity to consent (voluntarily) to the marriage, the wedlock can be annulled.
  • Marriage Prohibited by Law: If the spouses share familial relationship, the marriage is considered incestuous and is therefore annulled. Such relationships include whole/half siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, first cousins, grandchildren, etc.
  • Impotency or Inability to Consummate Marriage: If your spouse is physically incapable of consummating the marriage or is incurably impotent, the wedlock can be annulled, provided that you were not aware of the fact before marriage.
  • Misunderstanding: This is rather a complex ground, as misunderstanding is considered as a ground to dissolve a wedlock only if it is based on the grounds of having the desire to have children.


Religious Annulments

If you fail to meet the above-mentioned requirements, you can still try to obtain religious annulment. A diocesan tribunal in the Catholic Church can grant an annulment of a marriage, provided that you can show adequate grounds to prove that the marriage was less than a covenant and was majorly lacking in some way.

The following are some on the grounds for religious annulment:

  • Voluntarily entering into the marriage
  • Maturity
  • Openness and honesty
  • Emotional stability
  • Appropriate motivation
  • Inability to establish a loving marital relationship

Property and issues regarding children are usually not involved in an annulment, as these grounds are typically discovered early on in the marriage. That said, most state laws have rules related to such issues, in case it is an annulment of a long-term marriage. Your annulment attorney is the best person to help you understand your particular state’s laws.

Grounds for Divorce

A divorce is more complicated than an annulment, and the laws differ from state to state. Debts and marital assets are a major issue in divorces, and therefore need to be settled. The same applies for children born out of wedlock and, hence, the custody of children and the visitation rights need to be determined. A divorce proceeding also involves child, as well as spousal, support issues.

There are two proceedings for divorce: a no-fault divorce and a fault divorce. Under a no-fault divorce, the marriage is dissolved but neither the man nor the woman is blamed “guilty” for the marital break-up. However, some states need a legal separation period for a no-fault divorce.

The fault divorce is more traditional – one spouse needs to prove enough grounds, such as alcohol and/or drug usage, incurable mental illness, gambling, abuse, and conviction of a crime, etc. Although these grounds for divorce usually vary from state to state, the following are some major grounds that apply to most states:

Desertion: Your spouse abandons you for a long period of time – this is applicable to both physical and emotional desertion.

Adultery: If your spouse engages in adulterous activities, such as extramarital relationships during the marriage, then you can obtain a divorce under this ground.

Physical/Emotional Abuse: If you are being subjected to domestic violence (i.e., emotional, psychological, and physical abuse or violent attacks from your spouse), then divorce can be obtained. Even abusive language, as well as threats of physical violence are considered as serious grounds for dissolution of marriage.

The cost of the divorce differs from one state to another, depending on the filing and your lawyer’s fee. For example, the filing fee in Indiana varies between $132 and $152, based on your county. Therefore, if you are hiring a divorce attorney in Indiana, you need to add this filing fee along with your attorney's fees to understand how much the divorce proceeding is going to cost you.

Which is Right for You?

The complexity of your annulment or divorce typically depends on your particular situation as well as your state’s laws. It is, therefore, beneficial to be aware of the laws and the grounds on which you can obtain a marital dissolution. Familiarizing yourself with these grounds will also help you to determine the right option for you – whether it be an annulment or a divorce.

Angela Hill is a Marketing Manager at the renowned divorce attorney law firm in Indiana, Cohen & Malad, LLP. The firm has extensive experience in a wide range of litigation and business services.

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April 13, 2016
Categories:  Divorce and Annulment

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