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Annulment vs. divorce: What’s the difference?

One erases the marriage as if it never happened, while the other ends it.

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Annulments and divorces have the same end result — change your status to single and you’re free to remarry. But they have different legal implications, and you’ll need to provide proof of specific circumstances. While annulments aren’t necessarily faster or cheaper than a divorce, they have a few distinct advantages.

What is an annulment?

An annulment is a legal procedure that treats a marriage as though it never existed. It voids the marriage because it wasn’t legal to begin with. Each state spells out the circumstances or reasons that qualify you for an annulment, including if you were mentally incapacitated or you were misled into the marriage because of a lie or misrepresentation.

How much does an annulment cost?

An annulment can cost anywhere from $150 to $5,000 — not including your state filing fee, which varies from county to county and averages around $300. How much you ultimately pay depends on a few factors, including whether your spouse contests the annulment and if you hire a lawyer.

How long after getting married can I get an annulment?

Some states impose time limits for when you can legally request an annulment. For example, California’s annulment window is limited to four years on most grounds for annulment. Other states, such as Alabama, have no time limits.

Do I need to hire a lawyer to get an annulment?

No, you don’t need to hire a lawyer. You can use an online legal service or fill out the required legal documents yourself and submit the forms to your local county clerk.

But you’ll need to prove that you meet at least one of the grounds for annulment. Consider consulting a lawyer if you need help demonstrating that you have a legal reason for the annulment.

Annulment vs. divorce: How do they compare?

An annulment declares that the marriage was never legal or valid in the first place, whereas a divorce ends the marriage. The key difference is what happens after. If you’re divorced, you’ve been previously married. But if you’ve had an annulment, the marriage never existed.

To get an annulment, you must prove that you have a legal reason for it. On the other hand, most states allow for a no-fault divorce that doesn’t require proof of wrongdoing.

Here are some key differences between the two:

What it isLegal procedure that deems your marriage never existed.Legal procedure that ends your marriage.
Who it’s best forCouples that want to erase the marriage and meet strict state guidelines.Couples that want to terminate a legal marriage.
Cost$150 to $5,000 + state filing fees$150 to $23,000 + state filing fees
Length of time required before filingVaries by stateVaries by state
Waiting periodNoYes
Statute of limitationsYes — varies by state and grounds for annulmentNo
Grounds requiredYesYes
Child supportYesYes
Children considered legitimateYesYes
Marriage existedNoYes
Marital status afterwardSingleSingle
Lawyer requiredNoNo
Available onlineYesYes

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What are the grounds for annulment?

The grounds for annulment and the time limit for each reason vary by state. Here are some common legal bases for annulment:

  • Bigamy. Your spouse was already married to someone else when you got married.
  • Incest. You and your spouse are too close in familial relation to be married.
  • Forced consent. You were forced or threatened into the marriage.
  • Fraud. You agreed to the marriage based on a lie or misrepresentation, such as if your spouse lied about a pregnancy or falsely claimed to want children.
  • Unsound mind. You or your spouse lacked the mental capacity to sufficiently consent to the marriage because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness at the time of the marriage.
  • Concealment. Your spouse hid a major fact, such as substance abuse or a previous felony.
  • Underage. You or your spouse were not of the legal age of consent to marry, and you didn’t have parental consent or court approval.

Advantages of getting an annulment

Here are a few good arguments for getting an annulment instead of a divorce:

  • No waiting period. Unlike many states that require a waiting or cooling-off period for divorce, an annulment can go straight to a hearing.
  • Reinstate spousal support payments and benefits. If you were receiving spousal support payments, pension, Social Security or insurance benefits from a previous marriage that were terminated because of this marriage, your benefits may be reinstated after the annulment is finalized.
  • Erases the marriage. Although there is a public record of your annulment, you don’t have to include the marriage on any legal forms going forward.

What’s the difference between an annulment and legal separation?

An annulment legally voids a marriage and generally restores your single status from before the union. With a legal separation, you remain married to your spouse, although you live separate lives. A separation agreement lays out your responsibilities and division of assets and debts.

Bottom line

Getting an annulment is only possible if you meet your state’s strict guidelines to qualify. There’s no waiting period, but it’s not necessarily cheaper or faster than a divorce — especially if your spouse contests it.

And since annulments rely on a burden of proof, it might be easier to terminate the marriage with a divorce. Take a look at our guide to divorce to learn about its legal implications to decide if it’s right for you.

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