The Difference Between a Marriage Annulment vs. Divorce


The end of a marriage is a confusing, overwhelming time for anyone. What can sometimes complicate things even further is if annulment is an option. Annulment can in many instances be a faster path towards dissolving the marriage, yet there are specific circumstances where an annulment fits as well as ramifications you want to consider. 

If you are thinking about seeking an annulment for your marriage, as opposed to a divorce, take time to learn its advantages, disadvantages, and how it differs from divorce in order to take the next steps with confidence. 

What Does Annulment Mean?

The primary way annulment differs from divorce is that it claims the marriage was never legally valid. As a result, an annulment is typically the result of a marriage that was not legally valid in the first place. It is stating that the marriage never actually took place. 

Conversely, a divorce terminates what is considered a legally valid marriage. This is the more common way to end a marriage, as it acknowledges the marriage once existed, and are now two single parties.

Grounds for an Annulment vs. Grounds for Divorce

As annulment dissolves a marriage that is believed to have not been valid in the first place, there are specific grounds to obtain one. In South Carolina, you may file for an annulment for one of the following reasons:

  • At least one spouse was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage.
  • The spouses never shared a residence.
  • One spouse forced the other into the marriage.
  • Bigamy or incest.
  • One spouse was mentally incompetent of consenting to the marraige.
  • One spouse kept information vital to the marriage hidden.

As all of these reasons make a marriage invalid legally, an annulment would be the path to take. However, these grounds must be proven in court in order to secure the annulment. In some states, the annulment must also be completed within a certain amount of years following the marriage to be granted.

Divorces can be either fault or no-fault, with different grounds necessary for each. For a fault divorce, common grounds are imprisonment, abandonment, abuse, addiction, mental illness, or adultery. Additionally, in every state, no-fault divorces are legal. In most no-fault cases, the parties cite “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for divorce.

What Happens After an Annulment vs. a Divorce

Because an annulment makes it as though a marriage never happened, the aftermath is different from the responsibilities that often follow a divorce. The parties will be able to return to the financial state they were in as single people, prior to the marriage. 

In South Carolina, a judge still decides custody, child support, and visitation when children are involved, and may also be able to give instruction on alimony and division of property. Any children still remain a mutual financial responsibility of both parents.

After a divorce, most of the time, the parties still are tied to each other financially in multiple ways. Many times, one former spouse is responsible for spousal support or alimony. The property acquired during the time of the marriage must be divided, or decided upon, and if there are children, a judge will help decide custody arrangements and child support.

If you are currently considering either an annulment or a divorce, it is in your best interest to research the laws in your state and discuss your options with a family law attorney who can guide you through the process.

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