Is Annulment A Less Bitter Option Than Divorce?

It’s every engaged person’s worst fear: you and your partner finally tie the knot, only for you to discover that they have been lying to you the entire time. Maybe your new spouse was lying about their identity or finances, or perhaps they were already legally married. Regardless of the details, you’ve just found out that you were married under false pretenses. If you’re in this nightmare scenario, then you might be wondering, “Is annulment an option?”

The answer is possibly yes. If you meet specific criteria, you can have your marriage annulled and move on with your life. Below, you’ll learn what annulment is, when it’s possible, and the best alternatives if an annulment isn’t an option.

What Is Annulment?

Annulment is the legal ending of a marriage that returns both spouses to the original legal status they held before the wedding. Basically, an annulment declares that a marriage was invalid and reverses it entirely. Not only does it end the marriage, it retroactively cancels out the time a couple spent married in the first place.

Annulments are often thought of as religious processes. It’s true that for some people of faith, an annulment is the only acceptable way to end a marriage. However, an annulment has more than just religious consequences.

Since the process effectively makes it, so the marriage never happened, any legal consequences of that marriage can also be undone. For example, most prenuptial agreements won’t be considered enforceable if someone gets an annulment.

Annulments, Legal Separations, and Divorce: What’s the Difference?

Divorces and legal separations are intended to be the way most marriages end. These processes treat marriage as a significant contract that should be carefully dissolved. Specifically, they consider the assets earned by the couple during their marriage as joint assets that should be divided fairly between both people. In California, both parties are awarded equal ownership over community property, so the assets are split 50/50 when a divorce or separation takes place.

An annulment doesn’t do that. It completely wipes out the marriage like it never took place. This means the state decides that the assets in the relationship revert to the sole property of each party. The only exception is if they signed a separate contract with both of their names, it’s shared between them just as it would with any other unmarried pair.

That’s not the only difference between divorce, legal separation, and annulment. Below, you can see the most critical differences in how California treats people getting divorced, separated, or an annulment.

 DivorceLegal SeparationAnnulment
Marital StatusDivorcedMarried but separatedSingle or unmarried
Division of AssetsCommunity assets dividedCommunity assets dividedAll assets treated as sole property
Prenuptial AgreementsFollowedFollowedIgnored
Time to Approval6 months6 monthsImmediate
AlimonyPossiblePossibleNo

When Are Annulments an Option?

While leaving your spouse has become significantly more acceptable, getting legally married is still supposed to be a long-term or life-long decision. Untangling a married couple’s lives is complex, and divorce laws have been developed to make the process as fair as possible. Annulments aren’t subject to those laws, which can complicate the process. That’s why annulment is only available in specific scenarios.

Annulments are available in cases where:

  • One partner was underage
  • The relationship is incestuous
  • One person was already legally married, making the second wedding bigamy
  • One partner was forced to consent to the wedding
  • One spouse was not mentally competent to consent to the wedding
  • One partner can’t or won’t consummate the marriage
  • One person significantly misrepresented themselves or their circumstances to fraudulently convince the other person to marry them

Essentially, you may be able to get an annulment if the marriage was not legal in the first place or if you were fraudulently convinced to get married. For instance, you could get your marriage annulled if you were blackmailed into it. You can also seek this solution if your partner lied about something and you would not have married them if you’d known the truth, such as their identity, religion, or parentage of their children.

The Best Alternatives for Annulments

If you want to end your marriage but you’re not eligible for an annulment, you still have options. You can choose to get a divorce or a legal separation depending on what you want out of the process.

In a divorce, the marriage is ended entirely. It is acknowledged as having happened, but it is no longer in effect. If you’re confident that you no longer want to be with your partner and you don’t have a religious reason to avoid a divorce, then this is the best and most permanent solution.

After a legal separation, you remain married. However, your finances and legal responsibilities are completely split from your partner. If your religion frowns on divorce, separations don’t technically end your relationship, so you can move on with your life without violating your beliefs. Meanwhile, if you want space from your partner but you’re not committed to ending the relationship, a separation can be easily reversed.

Neither of these solutions will declare your marriage invalid. Still, if you’re not eligible for an annulment, they are your best options for getting out of your relationship and moving forward.

Don’t Stay in a Marriage You Don’t Want

If you no longer want to be married, you have no legal obligation to stay married. You just need to find the best solution for ending your marriage quickly and permanently. If you meet the requirements, an annulment is an excellent solution. If not, you can try an alternative like a legal separation to cut the connection between you and your spouse.

Regardless of the process you choose, it’s a good idea to get help. Every method of ending a marriage takes legal action. Working with an experienced divorce lawyer will help you handle those tasks no matter what solution you choose. You can get started today by contacting the team at Kaspar & Lugay, LLC, to discuss your situation.

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Kaspar & Lugay, LLP is a family law firm with offices in Corte Madera, CA; Napa, CA; Walnut Creek, CA; and San Diego, CA. We also represent clients in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Pismo Beach, Contra Costa County, and Los Angeles.