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Divorce vs. Annulment

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In ordinary day to day conversations, divorce and annulment can sometimes be used interchangeably. Although these two terms are about ending a marriage, they have different meanings and have different legal effects and connotations. 

Here are the main differences between divorce and annulment. 


Divorce is a legal remedy that couples usually seek when they are no longer seeing eye to eye and wish to end their marriage. In a divorce, there is no error present in the consummation of the marriage. All it takes is the couple jointly or one party solely wishing to legally dissolve their union. 

For example, a couple has been married for 5 years. However, they have been experiencing problems in the household and decide to call it quits. They then file a divorce, the effects of which will divide their marital assets, determine their parental rights and responsibilities, if they have children, and oblige the other to pay child support, among other things. Should they not agree on the divorce, one spouse may file a petition and the case will be decided by a judge.

The important thing to note is that in divorce, the marriage was valid from the beginning. However, due to issues between the partners or other reasons, they want to end their marital union. The effects of a divorce, therefore, is that their marriage will end, but the records will still show that they were married for a certain period of time.


Annulment, on the other hand, differs in important ways. Here, the marriage was never valid in the first place. It has something to do with errors in the consummation that made the marriage void ab initio (invalid from the outset) or without force and effect. 

A separation on the grounds of annulment will usually be granted if the following are present:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation – where one of the spouses lied about something that makes the marriage void. For example, he or she has a prior valid marriage with another that has not been legally dissolved. 
  • Lack of consent – where one spouse did not consent to or did not have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage. 
  • Psychological incapacity – where one spouse is not psychologically capable of performing marital obligations.
  • Impotence – when one spouse is unable to have children and the condition is incurable and that the other spouse was not aware of the impotency.
  • And others.

For example, a couple has been married for one year. But one spouse suddenly finds out that his or her partner already had an existing marriage when they got married. This is a valid grounds for annulment. Divorce cannot be the remedy to this because the marriage was never valid in the first place. 

The result of annulment is that the couple was never recognized as married at all. It is a total extinguishment of all records pertaining to their marriage – as their union never happened. 

Because divorce and annulment have differing causes and effects, it is important to know the difference between the two. Further, each State has different laws when it comes to these legal actions, so it’s best to hire an attorney should you be seeking to go to court to dissolve your marriage.

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