Legal Insurance

Annulment vs. Divorce: What’s the Difference?

4 min read
Feb 08, 2023

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 ramifications.

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 require a specific set of circumstances and evidence to be granted while a divorce is easier to attain.1

Let’s dive a little deeper into each.

What is an annulment?

A marriage annulment is a legal ruling that deems a marriage null and void — as if it never happened in the first place. 

Because an annulment means a marriage was never legally valid, any prenuptial agreements are typically also invalid. Generally, neither partner has a right to the other's personal property or money the way they may 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 for it to a judge to have the marriage annulled. To qualify for an annulment, you must meet certain circumstances.

When can you get a marriage annulled?

If you’re looking to have a marriage annulled, the following situations may qualify:

  • False pretenses: One or both parties were tricked into getting married.
  • Mental incompetence: One or both parties weren’t legally able to make the decision to get married because of a mental disability or being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Bigamy: One or both parties were already married.
  • Underage marriage: One or both parties were under the legal age of consent (usually 18) at the time of the marriage.
  • Incest: The marriage was between two related parties.
  • Concealment: One or both parties failed to disclose important details about themselves and their lives before the marriage, like having a child, a criminal conviction, or a serious illness.
  • Failure to consummate the marriage: One or both parties are unable to be physically intimate in the marriage.

Each of these scenarios may create legal grounds for a marriage to be annulled and must be proven in court.

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What is a divorce?

A divorce declares a marriage legally over. Because a divorce recognizes the marriage as valid, the process is often 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 money owned by the other, unless otherwise outlined in a prenup.

Reasons for divorce

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 a specific incident or circumstance that caused the marriage to end. Instead, couples can cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason the marriage didn’t work out. There are also fault-based divorces, and the reasons for those can include:3

  • Marital conflict: There’s abuse and/or incessant arguing.
  • Imprisonment: One or both spouses are convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail or prison time.
  • Incurable insanity: One or both parties are deemed insane by a qualified doctor.

How do annulments and divorces deal with children?

When it comes to children and parental rights, annulments and divorces handle these matters very differently.

Annulments and children

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.

Divorces and children

A divorce often 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.

Divorce vs. annulment: The bottom line

While annulments and divorces both end a relationship, the biggest difference between the two is that a divorce legally ends a marriage, while an annulment claims the marriage was never valid.

There are fewer restrictions on the circumstances that are deemed acceptable for getting a divorce, and every state in the United States recognizes no-fault divorces. An annulment, on the other hand, requires very specific reasons for a judge to be able to grant it.

If you’re not sure which option is right for you, you may want to consider a divorce attorney or family lawyer. If you’re enrolled in a legal insurance plan through your employer you may have access to lawyers who can offer you advice regarding annulments and divorces. 

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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

This article is intended to provide general information about insurance. It does not describe any MetLife product or feature.

Group legal plans are administered by MetLife Legal Plans, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio. In California, this entity operates under the name MetLife Legal Insurance Services. In certain states, group legal plans are provided through insurance coverage underwritten by Metropolitan General Insurance Company, Warwick, RI. Payroll deduction required for group legal plans. For costs and complete details of the coverage, call or write the company.