In August of 2015, a family court judge denied WNBA player Brittney Griner’s request to annul her marriage to fellow WNBA star Glory Johnson. The annulment request was filed along with a petition for divorce. The court found there was no legal basis for an annulment, but allowed the divorce with minor children to proceed.
Is there a Difference between an Annulment of Marriage and Divorce?
An annulment of a marriage and divorce serves the same purpose: it ends a marriage. So you should be able to file either petition to end a marriage, right? Nope. Although it serves the same purpose, they are two separate and distinct ways to resolve a marriage.
A Marriage that Never Happened
Majority of people getting divorce probably wished their marriage never happened. An annulment of marriage actually makes that true. The memories may remain, but the government will treat the ceremony as if it never occurred.
An annulment of marriage is a legal process allowing a married couple to legally end their marriage. Once the annulment is complete, the marriage never happened. An annulment is based on misrepresentation of one party. Grounds for an annulment vary from state to state, but they typically require at least one of the following grounds exists:
- Force: One or both of the spouses were forced to get married.
- Incest: The spouses are blood related which makes the union illegal according to state law.
- Underage: One spouse was under the age of consent when the marriage was first entered into; the inability to consent due to age prohibits him from legally agreeing to get married. In many states though, parental consent can overcome underage restrictions.
- Not of sound mind: Either spouse was too incapacitated at the time the ceremony took place. Being incapacitated can refer to being impaired by drugs and/ or alcohol or suffering from a mental defect.
- Marriage was never consummated: One of the spouses was unable to have sexual intercourse and didn’t tell her spouse at the time they married.
- Bigamy: At least one of the spouses was legally married to another person at the time the alleged marriage took place.
- Misrepresentation or fraud: One of the spouses lied or concealed an essential fact about herself that was vital to the marriage. This may include a fact like she was unable to have children or withheld her true identity.
Example #1, two men marry in California. The men consummate the marriage. They remain married for five years before the spouse discovers his husband was still legally married to someone else when they married. Would the court deny him an annulment?
In the example, the man would be able to request an annulment on the grounds of bigamy since the man was married at the time of their marriage. Typically, states don’t allow a person to be legally married to more than one person at a time. Therefore, he would most likely be granted an annulment.
What about Property and Other Items Accumulated During the Marriage?
Majority of annulments are filed within weeks or months of the ceremony taking place. Therefore, there are no debts or property to resolve. There are also no child support, child custody, or spousal support issues either.
What Happens If a Marriage is Annulled Years Later Instead of Months Later?
Issues such as child support, visitation, and property division are dealt with as if the spouses were getting a divorce. So the judge would make decisions about those issues if the parties couldn’t agree.
It’s important to mention how children of an annulled marriage are viewed. They aren’t considered illegitimate. They were born during a marriage, even though the marriage never existed legally.
A Marriage that Can’t Be Ignored
A divorce is the legal process of legally ending a marriage. The term “dissolution of marriage” is also used to describe a divorce. An individual seeking a divorce has two options in many jurisdictions:
- No fault
In a fault divorce, the marriage ended because of one spouse doing something wrong. Wrongdoing such as adultery, abandonment, and physical or emotional abuse are some grounds for a fault divorce.
With a no fault divorce, the marriage ends and neither spouse is to blame. The spouse who files for divorce doesn’t need to prove fault or have the consent of the other spouse to seek the divorce. The court does require a reason for getting divorce. Many people claim “irreconcilable differences” as a reason to obtain the divorce.
What about the property, children, and assets? Those issues are resolved according to state law when the couple can’t agree. Custody issues are usually based on what’s in the best interest of the children. Property and assets are divided according to community property or equitable distribution.
Example #2, a couple divorced after 20 years of marriage. The ex-wife wants to get married again. According to her religion, she is prohibited from having a church wedding because she’s divorced. Could she seek an annulment of a marriage?
Although divorce is widely accepted in the United States, it isn’t accepted in many religious faiths such as the Roman Catholic Church. Once a couple is divorced a second marriage isn’t recognized in their religious faith. In the example above, the ex-wife wouldn’t be granted an annulment because the divorce already occurred.
She’d actually have to obtain a religious, not civil annulment. A religious annulment is granted by the religious institution based on their own grounds. This means the grounds for an annulment may be different than state law. After being granted a religious annulment, the religious institution will ignore the divorce and recognize the second marriage.
Basically, the difference between an annulment and divorce depends on the length of the marriage and degree of misrepresentation.
Authored by Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer