Some people mistakenly believe they can escape an impulse marriage in Las Vegas or a short childless marriage that went wrong from the start via an annulment, but the courts say otherwise. Divorce and annulments are both ways to end a marriage, and today divorce ends far more marriages than annulments. Basically, a divorce ends a marriage; an annulment voids the original marriage contract, so it is as if the marriage never happened.
Civil courts annul marriages in one of two ways. One, if a marriage was never legally consummated, for instance, when one party is already married, the union is said to be void, or a “nullity,” i.e., it never existed; or, two, a marriage may be found a voidable marriage when it is valid until or unless it is annulled. In the first case, the marriage never happened; in the second, the marriage happened but is in some way flawed, so that it may be voided. The first is said to be void ab initio (“from inception”); the second is said to be voidable nunc pro tunc (“from now for then”). Grounds for an annulment of the first kind include bigamy. Grounds for annulling a voidable marriage include serious fraud or a party’s legal incompetence at the time of the marriage. Duress, bigamy, and fraud are the most common grounds for an annulment.
To annul a marriage, a partner must demonstrate that the union was invalid from the start. Annulled marriages bypass many of the obligations normally associated with marriages that end in divorce, including property distribution, alimony, and distribution of Social Security.
Sometimes, people choose annulment instead of divorce because of the financial advantages. According to lawyer Sonia Nair, “Most of the annulment proceedings do not take into consideration other factors, like, alimony, division of property and child custody, whereas in a divorce proceeding, usually, the court rules on most of these factors. Even though, the rules of annulment and divorce vary from one state to another, the basics are more or less the same. As an annulment results in declaring a marriage invalid from the beginning itself, there is no question of maintenance or alimony, which is granted in divorce. When it comes to distribution of property, the court tries to restore the original financial state of the parties (before the marriage), but in a divorce proceeding, the court tries to divide marital property equitably. In divorce, child support and custody are matters which are taken into consideration, whereas this is not the case in annulment, with exception to some states.”
Civil annulments should not be confused with religious annulments. Those granted by the Catholic Church clear the way for members of the church to marry again within the Church’s graces.