When a couple determines their marriage is at an end, they must then start the process of terminating the marriage. Divorce is the typical route most take; however, the complicated legal process has become so widely discussed and dreaded that many hope to find an easier route.
To bypass all the legal hoops associated with divorce, many consider the possibility of getting an annulment. Although most people have probably heard of this term before, they typically only have the most basic of ideas what an annulment entails — it’s a way to get unmarried without a divorce, right?
In reality, it isn’t nearly as simple as that, or else everyone would skip the divorce and go straight for the “easier” option.
What exactly is an annulment?
Where a divorce legally dissolves a valid marriage, an annulment is a legal process that essentially voids a marriage like it never existed. You must prove that the marriage should never have been allowed to take place in the first place, and that the whole thing should not have been recognized in the eyes of the state.
This may sound like a very useful option, but states generally have strict conditions that must be met to qualify for an annulment. Some of the common grounds include:
- Gross misrepresentation (fraud) — one of the spouses agreed to get married based on a lie told by the other party that was essential to the marriage.
- Bigamy — if either spouse was already married to someone else.
- Coercion — if either party was threatened into consenting to the marriage.
- The marriage wasn’t legal —a marriage between two closely-related people could be considered incestuous.
- Incapability to consummate the marriage — impotence can be grounds for annulment if it was unknown by the other party prior to marriage.
- Mental illness — if either party was suffering from mental illness when the marriage took place.
- Inebriation — if either party was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they gave consent.
In addition to the rigid list of conditions determined by each state, there are commonly brief time frames to qualify for an annulment.
For example, in Illinois, you only have 90 days to annul a marriage from the time you learn the other party was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, was mentally impaired or was forced into the marriage.
Annulments aren’t a loophole
Many who seek to get their marriage annulled instead of going through a divorce do so because they believe it will let them avoid having to pay alimony; however, all of the issues determined by the court in a divorce are also decided in an annulment.
After filing for an annulment, the court will hold a hearing to see if there is sufficient cause within the state’s guidelines, and if it is granted, a judge still must consider issues of child support, custody, visitation, alimony and property division. You aren’t going to be pulling one over on the state and your spouse by filing for an annulment instead of a divorce — particularly if you have been married for a long time.
This is also a big reason why most annulments happen within a few days or weeks of marriage. It is much easier to separate and void a marriage when there are few major issues for the courts to rule upon.
What it all comes down to is that only a very small portion of the married population would even qualify for an annulment to begin with, and of that small portion, an annulment may or may not be the best option.
It should be noted that some religions, such as Roman Catholics, do not recognize divorce or even civil annulments. To remarry in the Catholic tradition, one must also go through a Catholic Annulment to void the marriage in the eyes of the Church, even if you are granted a civil annulment.
You should always consult with an experienced family law attorney before filing any kind of motion to end your marriage. While an annulment may seem like an easy way out of a marriage from what you’ve heard on TV or read in a tabloid (think Britney Spears in 2004), the vast majority of the time a divorce will be the best and only option to end a marriage.