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Ending a relationship is never easy. Ending a marriage can be especially challenging, not only because of the emotions involved, but also because of the legal processes that can follow.
There are two main ways to formally end a marriage: annulment and divorce. An annulment declares that a marriage was never valid, while a divorce legally concludes a valid marriage. Annulments also require specific circumstances and evidence, while a divorce is more common and easier to attain.1
Let’s dive a little deeper into each.
A marriage annulment is a legal ruling that deems a marriage null and void — as if it never happened in the first place. Because annulments effectively erase the marriage, there are fewer concerns when it comes to property and financial divisions, as well as prenuptial agreements.
Because the marriage was never considered legally valid, any prenuptial agreements are also invalid. Plus, neither partner has a right to the other’s personal property or finances the way they would in the case of a divorce.
However, getting the courts to grant an annulment can be difficult. At least one party must believe the marriage shouldn’t have happened, and they have to provide grounds to a judge in order to have it annulled. To qualify for an annulment of marriage, you must meet certain circumstances.
If you’re looking to have a marriage annulled, the following situations typically qualify:
Each of these scenarios creates legal grounds for a marriage to be annulled and must be proven in court.
A divorce declares a marriage legally over. Because a divorce recognizes the marriage as valid, the process is much more involved.
For example, if a prenuptial agreement was filed, the divorce must follow what’s outlined within it. Additionally, each partner may have a legal claim to any personal property or financial resources owned by the other, unless otherwise outlined in a prenup.
Unlike annulments, divorces can occur for any number of reasons. In the United States, all states recognize “no-fault” divorces.2 This means there doesn’t need to be one specific incident or circumstance that doomed the marriage. Instead, many couples cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason they didn’t work out. However, reasons for fault-based divorces can include:3
When it comes to children and parental rights, annulments and divorces handle these matters very differently.
In the event of an annulment where children are involved, it’s as if the parents were never married. That means both parents can individually seek custody or work out an agreement for shared custody, much like they would if the child had been born to unmarried parents in the first place.
A divorce comes with stricter rules and regulations regarding the dissolution of the relationship, especially if children are involved. Usually, the parents must agree on a custody arrangement ahead of time, or a judge will decide what’s best for the children and determine custody during divorce proceedings.4
While annulments and divorces both end a relationship, the largest difference between the two is that a divorce legally ends a marriage, while an annulment claims the marriage was never valid.
A divorce is often the most common course of action, as there are fewer constrictions on what qualifies, and every state in the United States recognizes no-fault divorces. An annulment, on the other hand, requires specific reasoning for a judge to be able to grant it.
If you’re not sure which option is right for you, consult a divorce attorney or family lawyer to understand what best suits your specific circumstances. If you’re enrolled in a legal insurance policy through your employer you may also have access to lawyers who can offer you legal advice.
1 “Annulment vs. Divorce: What Are the Differences?” Very Well Mind, 2022
2 “no-fault divorce,” Legal Information Institute, 2020
3 “fault divorces,” Legal Information Institute, 2021
4 “Understanding Child Custody | How Custody Decisions Are Made,” Nolo.com
This article is intended to provide general information about insurance. It does not describe any Metropolitan Life Insurance company product or feature.
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