What Is the Difference Between Annulment and Divorce?
Ending a marriage is never simple. There are legal hurdles to jump and hard decisions to be made. Pragmatic concerns, like that of property division, financial support, or child custody plans, can overwhelm and overtake emotional ones, weighing heavily on the mind and heart. As you deal with those concerns, you may also wonder exactly how you should end your relationship. Perhaps you’ve heard that you could have your marriage annulled rather than go through a divorce. If you’re wondering which route you should take, make sure you understand what an annulment is and when it applies.
Although they both end a marriage, annulments and divorces are quite different from one another. Here are some key details that separate an annulment from a divorce.
#1: A Divorce Ends a Marriage
As you go through life, you leave a legal trail of life events with beginnings and endings. You worked at one location for several years, ended your employment there, and started a new job elsewhere. You likely changed residences throughout your life, and there are records of the time you spent at each location.
A divorce would become a part of that legal trail that outlines your life. It acknowledges that, legally, you were married for a period of time, and that marriage ended. The length and dates of your marriage will forever be a part of your legal history. For some, this may not matter. But for others, they might want their marriage wiped from their past forever.
An Annulment Delegitimizes a Marriage
Annulments work a little differently. The marriage is part of your personal history, and it remains in your memories. Legally, however, an annulment acts to completely invalidate the marriage. Essentially, an annulment says that the marriage should never have happened to begin with, and it wipes the marriage from your legal record. However, wiping something like this from your record is much easier said than done.
#2: Methods for Divorce
In many states, you still have the option to treat your divorce as a trial by claiming fault. If you claim fault, you essentially take your spouse to court, accusing them of whatever wrongdoing ultimately ended your marriage. Many states have these fault-based divorces, but in most cases, folks prefer to opt for a simpler, often more amicable, no-fault divorce.
California is among the states that doesn’t bother with fault-based divorce. A couple can simply decide they no longer want to be married, and no one must prove wrongdoing. Courtroom divorces are simply there the make determinations on support, child custody, and property division. This is called a “no-fault” divorce.
Methods for an Annulment
If you opt for an annulment, you are making the marriage legally inert, and to do so requires the satisfaction of much more rigid legal standards. These standards vary a bit from state to state, but there are commonalities that invalidate a marriage across the country.
In California, you can only file for an annulment if, at the time of the wedding:
- Either spouse was underage
- Either spouse was coerced
- Either spouse was already legally married
- Either spouse was suffering from a severe mental illness
- Either spouse could not legally agree to marry
- Either spouse was not physically present for the wedding
It is important to note that annulments in California must abide by a statute of limitations that requires the filling party to petition for an annulment within the first 4 years of the marriage.
#3: Support & Custody in a Divorce
Because a divorce ends an established, legal family, courts may rule that one party has an obligation to provide financial support to the other. If the couple has children, they will both contribute financial support to keep the child fed, safe, and happy. In some cases, the parent with physical custody supports the kids directly by caring for them on a daily basis, while the other makes child support payments. However, this varies depending on the custody arrangement and several other factors.
When the couple has children, the law generally assumes it is best for the kids to see both parents regularly. Because of this, responsibilities are generally spit between parents. Parents who share custody are given joint authority over education matters and health decisions, along with other important parenting matters. Sometimes parents share this authority equally; sometimes full authority is given to only one parent.
California uses a percentage system. Achieving an equal, 50/50 split is difficult, so parents usually share the kids on a split closer to 60/40, 75/25, and so on.
Support & Custody in an Annulment
It bears repeating: An annulment is the nullifying of a marriage. Once an annulment has taken place, the marriage technically never happened. As such, the state is no longer concerned with making sure one partner is supported financially.
When it comes to marital assets or support, you can ask the court to rule in your favor by granting you some of these benefits. However, legally speaking, the court has no obligation to provide support in an annulment. When getting an annulment, prepare to walk away with whatever directly belongs to you or belonged to you before the marriage took place. However, this can be tricky, so it is worth discussing with an experienced attorney if you are concerned about retaining certain aspects you shared with your spouse.
When it comes to child support or child custody, the court is likely to view you as they would any other single parents who share the same children. There are systems in place to help demand child support and custody in these situations, as they would with other unmarried parents. Ultimately, you may be able to negotiate child support and child custody terms, but you should definitely speak with your lawyer to discuss your specific situation.
If you need either a divorce or an annulment, call our firm today for a free consultation. You can reach us at (949) 565-4158. You can also contact us online.