What’s the Difference Between Divorce and Annulment? 5

Dissolving a Marriage, Versus Erasing it From Record

While many people see divorce and annulment as two different words for dissolving a marriage, the truth is that there are some distinct differences.

First and foremost, a divorce actually “ends” or terminates a legal marriage whereas an annulment declares that the marriage never legally existed in the first place and that perhaps is the key to understanding the difference between the two.

Divorce relies on the fact that there is a legal marriage in place. And although it returns the parties to single status, it does not “undo” the marriage but rather stops it from continuing.

Annulment works just the opposite and relies on the idea that the marriage either shouldn’t or wouldn’t have taken place if all the facts had been on the table. This assumes that while a wedding may have occurred, there was never actually a legal marriage to terminate and thus all that is needed is to officially declare the union to be void or voidable.

Void or voidable? What’s the difference?

A void marriage is one that was never legal to start with, such as in the case of a marriage of close relatives or parties who were underage. A voidable marriage is one that could be declared void because of specific facts but requires the parties to make a request to have it declared void. For example, if a man marries a woman who is infertile, many states allow him to ask for an annulment if the infertility was not revealed before the wedding. However, if the man finds out and continues to live with the woman as husband and wife, the “voidable” circumstance no longer exists and the marriage is considered to be valid.

Which brings us to the second major difference between divorce and annulment: the grounds (reasons). Like divorce, annulments have a specific set of grounds that the states will consider in an annulment hearing but where divorce grounds deal with situations, behaviors and circumstances that make the marriage no longer viable, grounds for annulment focus on reasons that prove the marriage never should have occurred in the first place.

In addition, while child custody, visitation and support are addressed in an annulment, alimony is typically not an option since the parties will have no financial obligation to each other once the marriage has been declared “null”. Some property division issues can also be addressed, specifically if the couple was married long enough to acquire some notable marital property. In general, however, the courts try as best they can to allow both parties to simply “leave with what they brought”.


  • mindee

    I got married in alaska less than two months ago. we have a son thats almost one. he has another baby on the way soon. i felt like it was a forced decision. im in north dakota and hes in alaska. what can i do to end everything?

  • Wait you’re one-year-old is having a baby?

  • sammy

    my boyfriend is currently married, but he wants to end all ties to her, but the problem is he doesnt know where she lives. they got married back in 2005 after the marriage they never lived together and never consummated the marriage. they got married in las vegas but they both live in califorina, but before they got married she was still with someone else. we have a son together and want to know if this is a problem to go through with ending all ties to her. which legal action would be best to take, a divorce or an annulment? any advise would be really greatfull.

  • Divorce is a delicate thing. It should be handled emotionally by therapists who are licensed to help people overcome their trials. Thanks for the article and deep understanding of the topic.

  • maria viveros

    i have been married for 11 yrs since 2001 but me and my husband have been seperated for 4 yrs and i havent heard from him since then the last i heard is that he remarried in mexico and i want my divorce what can i do ???? i have not ttalk to anyone about any of my divorce issue and we also have 3 children but he does not try to contact them in any way ive called and asked for him through his cousins and aunts and uncles but no luck ……