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Annulment v. Divorce

You may be amazed by the number of potential clients who meet with you to request to have their marriage annulled. Many people believe that their marriage can be annulled because it has not lasted for very long. Others need an annulment rather than a divorce for religious reasons. In any case, it is important to discuss the situation thoroughly in order to determine if an annulment is possible because few marriages can be annulled.
The grounds for an annulment vary by jurisdiction. However, annulments are generally limited to a few situations. If one party is mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage, including being under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent of being unaware of his or her actions, an annulment may be possible. Also, a lack of consummation of the marriage may be grounds to have the marriage annulled. Further, many jurisdictions permit annulment based on other grounds such as bigamy, under the legal age without parental consent, and marriage between blood relatives of a certain degree of separation. In any case, the grounds for an annulment must be proven, unlike most divorce and dissolution actions.
Similarities to Divorce
There are a few similarities between an annulment and a divorce. If there are children of the marriage, custody of the children and child support will generally be determined in the same manner as for a divorce action. Also, if the marriage has lasted for an extended period of time, the property of the marriage may be divided to make the annulment more equitable.
Differences from Divorce
Unlike a divorce, an annulment makes it as if the marriage never occurred. The parties are restored to their premarital assets and debts and have no rights or claims to anything from the former spouse. Also, if the parties can prove the grounds for an annulment, no children were born of the marriage, and the marriage was of a short duration, an annulment is a simple proceeding. Further, while a divorce can be obtained at any time during the marriage, depending upon the grounds and the jurisdiction, an annulment may have to occur within a certain number of days, weeks, or years, from the date of the marriage. Also, an annulment generally must occur in the county of residence or the county of marriage, even if the parties are no longer present in those jurisdictions.
There are various reasons for requesting an annulment. The parties may believe that it is easier (and, thus, cheaper). They may also have an annulment confused with dissolution. Additionally, they may see an annulment as a means to avoid a property settlement and/or spousal support. Further, some religions do not permit divorce, making an annulment the only means to honor religious beliefs.
Whatever the reason, ask the potential client why he or she wants an annulment and develop a series of questions to determine if any of the few permissible grounds in your jurisdiction are met. Once you truly understand the nature of the potential client’s situation, you can discuss the options available and the best course of action for his or her unique situation.